Govt unveils plans for mental health backlog

Andrew Little. File photo
Health Minister Andrew Little. File photo
Health Minister Andrew Little has unveiled plans to tackle a lengthy backlog in treatment for mental health issues.

Little said he would put Health NZ and the Māori Health Authority in charge of dealing with the backlogs.

Without reform, it would take three years or more to clear treatment backlogs.

"It's my expectation we can clear the backlog in significantly less time than that."

Little said central to his plan was a new national approach to specialist appointments.

For too long people had received inconsistent levels of care, Little told a Christchurch gathering.

"We have one public health system and I expect it to work together to make sure people get the treatment they need no matter what part of the country they're in."

Earlier today, Little announced that the Mana Ake programme for mental health services in schools would be expanded with a $90 million package to extend it to Northland, Counties Manukau, Bay of Plenty, and the Lakes and West Coast regions.

The programme started in Canterbury and Kaikōura to help children with mental health following the Christchurch earthquakes, and will continue to operate in those regions.

Little said the expansion would mean 195,000 primary and intermediate school students could benefit from it.

He said the school-based programme gave children support to deal with issues such as grief, loss, parental separation, and bullying, as well as guidance for parents, whānau and teachers.

"We know that early intervention is one of the best ways we encourage better mental wellbeing for young New Zealanders and through their lives. Mana Ake empowers children with resilience and support, when and where they need it, to confidently cope with whatever life throws at them."

There was a $1.9 billion package for mental health in the 2019 Budget, of which $235m was set aside for building mental health and addiction facilities.

However, earlier this year the Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission found that despite the investment and improvement in the area of primary care, there had been little change in access to specialist mental health services.

Little put that down to increased demand and low investment in mental health under the former National government.

A 2021 review by the Government's Implementation Unit found other aspects of the mental health programme, such as integrating mental health and addiction services into GP practices, were progressing well. However, delivering on the infrastructure for mental health was lagging.

The Government had moved to try to fast track the process for DHBs building those facilities.

In March this year, the Government started a recruitment drive for mental health nurses.

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