Extra mental health funds cautiously welcomed

Artsenta director Paul Smith in the Dunedin art studio yesterday for people in the mental health...
Artsenta director Paul Smith in the Dunedin art studio yesterday for people in the mental health community. Photo: Peter McIntosh.
The Budget announcement  of an extra $224 million to be spent in mental health services was "welcomed" in Dunedin yesterday, if it allowed services to be easily accessed in the community and encouraged early intervention.

Social Investment Minister Amy Adams said the $224million to be spent over four years included $124million on new innovative approaches.

Mental health had big impacts across the "employment, housing, health and justice sectors".

The mental health funding in the Budget includes:

● $100million for a new cross-government social investment fund to target innovative new proposals to tackle mental health issues.

● $100million for DHBs to support local mental health and addiction services.

● $11.6million to help the Department of Corrections better manage and support prisoners at risk of self-harm.

● $8million in Vote Maori Development to extend the Rangatahi Suicide Prevention Fund.

● $4.1million for the Ministry of Social Development to trial integrated employment and mental health services.

Artsenta director Paul Smith, of Dunedin, said any investment in mental health was "welcome", especially funding for community-based mental health services.

Chris Fleming.
Chris Fleming.

He was "concerned" at the trend of community-based mental health teams being centralised, making it harder for people to access services.

Artsenta was negotiating a contract with the Southern DHB for next year and it included a "5% cut in funding".

"We haven’t had a funding increase for four years and demand for services is higher now than it has been for 10 years," Mr Smith said.

He hoped the  $100million for DHBs would be invested in services that keep people well in the community, such as Artsenta, a non-profit  mental health organisation.

Otago Mental Health Support Trust manager Grant Cooper, of Dunedin, said the funding for new initiatives was "encouraging".

The funding for services for prisoners, Maori and youth would be money well spent, he said.

Life Matters Suicide Prevention Trust chairwoman Corinda Taylor spoke to a public health select committee session in Wellington on Wednesday about the need for an immediate review of mental health care in New Zealand.

Mrs Taylor’s son Ross (20), of Dunedin, took his life in 2013.

She hoped the funding would be spent on "emergency staff" at hospitals to provide "early intervention" to suicidal people.

People in "crisis" were waiting several hours to get help, she said.

"That’s where the real problem lies."

She wanted assurances from the DHBs the extra funding would be given to the "primary care level".

Early intervention would stop  people who were mildly or moderately depressed from escalating to "crisis" level, she said.

The announcement yesterday on how the money would be spent was "vague".

"I think it is fantastic there is more money, but now they have to consult with their communities and ask where those gaps are."

Southern DHB chief executive Chris Fleming said the board was "delighted" to see health as a priority in the Budget.

"We await with interest the more specific details for each DHB and will be sitting down to work out the implications for us and how we can make best use of the resources for our communities."

Health Minister Dr Jonathan Coleman said Cabinet would consider a new mental health and addiction strategy soon and include a new approach to dealing with mental health issues.

"This funding will support the implementation of the strategy and will provide greater flexibility to invest in new and innovative approaches," he said.

Dunedin North MP and Labour health spokesman Dr David Clark said the mental health funding was "too little, too late".

Demand for mental health services had increased 60% in the past decade and a lack of funding was continuing to fuel the "growing crisis".

"What has been announced for mental health is a drop in the bucket."

shawn.mcavinue@odt.co.nz

 

Health services

$1.54billion for wage increases for 55,000 care and disability support workers as part of the pay equity settlement.

• $205.4million for disability support services.

• $100million for innovative new mental health services.

• $60million for Pharmac to provide more access to new medicines.

• $52.3million for emergency ambulance services.

• $38.5million to continue the rollout of the bowel screening programme.

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