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In 2013, Otago-based psychiatric nurse Kerry Hand was commissioned by the board to produce a mental health development plan for the area.
Among his recommendations were a “re-balancing exercise” to free up resources, and multi-function teams based in Central Otago towns, including two in the Wakatipu.
“Service in Central Otago/Queenstown Lakes has been a long-standing issue, with an absolute minimum of Southern DHB-funded services, and a dramatic mismatch to a large and rising population,” the report stated.
Using population figures, he estimated 100 staff were needed across the region.
But, six years on, staffing’s just a third of that.
The SDHB, though, says support has increased, and work to develop services is ongoing.
Hand: “The population size deserves its share of the workforce, but it’s not getting it.
“It’s not a matter of four or five new positions coming into the area, which has possibly happened in the last year or two.
“A responsible approach would bring dozens into Queenstown alone.”
He says a common complaint is that while a service is described as ‘southern-wide’, in many areas this means somebody drives in for the day.
“A flying visit for a very short time, and not really connected to the local community.”
It comes amid concerns that mental health services in the resort are not up to scratch – mayor Jim Boult has said the SDHB is “letting our district down”.
In a statement, SDHB mental health, addictions and intellectual disability boss Louise Travers says the service has 30.5 staff in the Central-Lakes area.
Dunedin or Invercargill and the use of telemedicine’s on the rise.
She says mental health services either provided or funded by the board have increased across the area since Hand’s report, including a psychiatrist based in Queenstown four days a week and brief intervention services for young people provided by a non-profit organisation.
Travers also points to services based in Dunedin and Invercargill, like emergency psychiatric services, which also service the area.
The SDHB also funds a wide range of other services across the district, she says, and more are being developed.
Travers encourages people needing mental health support to visit their GP.
“This could lead to further assessment, treatment and referral onto other agencies as appropriate to the person’s needs.”
The health board also runs clinics in the Central Lakes area for paediatric and older persons’ mental health services, she says.