Better services region-wide priority for mental health director

Evan Mason
Evan Mason
The Southern District Health Board's recently appointed director of mental health says improving services throughout the wider region will be one of his priorities.

Dr Evan Mason said the southern DHB region was the size of Scotland and ensuring adequate coverage for mental health services was always going to be a challenge.

"We haven't got the most people but we have the widest area, and our furthest-away services are four hours away from here in Dunedin.

"One of the issues we have is simply getting people backwards and forwards, in hours and out of hours, and we are looking at ways we can work around that."

Other issues Dr Mason wanted to tackle were the balance between different types of services, and better management of emergency cases.

Ensuring adequate mental health services were available in the fast-growing Lakes district was a particular concern, Dr Mason said.

"The population there is outstripping the projections which were made, so we have been working a lot with the team in Queenstown trying to get the right people for there."

Dr Mason's predecessor, Brad Strong, appointed a permanent psychiatrist to Queenstown last year to meet soaring demand, and Dr Mason said he was considering boosting mental health services in Wanaka as well.

Across the region, travel times were an issue for all clinical staff that he hoped to address through greater use of technology, Dr Mason said.

"We are hoping we can get as many people as possible to teleconference with teams up there before they come through to Dunedin.

"There is a lot of travelling for the people who work there and that makes it a very hard job for those people, particularly those who do a lot of after-hours work.

"Having to drive someone down to Dunedin, which would take four hours, and then drive back again, could see you need to take some time off the next day, so we need to balance the health and safety of those who work for us, as well as the health and safety of everyone else."

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