Changes mooted in uni health shake-up

Seven counsellors could be laid off in a proposed shake-up of the University of Otago's mental health service.

Three clinical psychologists would be hired in their place, and four new ''support roles'' created.

The changes were proposed after a review last year looked at long wait times and stress points.

Life Matters Suicide Prevention Trust chairwoman Corinda Taylor greeted the proposal with caution as it represented a big change with an uncertain outcome.

She was pleased with the proposed hiring of psychologists, but said staffing was still light for more than 20,000 students.

''It is good that there is an [overall] increase in staff and that three full-time clinical psychologists will be available. However, that surely does not make a huge difference to our . . . students wanting counselling.

''The four new fulltime mental health support roles is obviously now concentrating on group programmes which may be fine for some but not others.''

Staffing would increase from 5.6 equivalent fulltime roles to seven fulltime roles.

Seven part-time counsellors and a health educator role would be disestablished, and replaced with three psychologists and four mental health support roles.

The support role workers would have expertise in group programmes and alcohol and drug issues.

In addition, the Maori Centre counselling service would merge with the service with no loss of jobs.

Student Health Services director Dr Kim Maiai said the proposed structure would provide the right skills to respond to student need.

''The intent of this proposal is to further reduce barriers to student access to services and integrate health education and awareness with treatment provision.

''The changes we have made plus those we are proposing represent a significant step up in university investment in student support and wellbeing,'' Dr Maiai said in a statement.

Prompted by the review, some changes had already been made, including hiring new clinical leadership.

Tertiary Education Union organiser Shaun Scott could not be contacted, but told student magazine Critic the focus on alcohol and drugs was concerning, because students needed a broad range of services.

Affected staff would receive the university's final decision later this month.

eileen.goodwin@odt.co.nz

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