Coleman says mental health system is 'high quality' as industry delegates cry for help
Health Minister Dr Jonathan Coleman has hit back at accusations the mental health system is in crisis, following cries from employees in the sector and a damning report about services in Wellington.
"Ensuring Kiwis get access to the mental health services they need continues to be a priority for the Government," Coleman said.
Mental health delegates from the Public Service Association (PSA) issued a statement following findings of a Capital & Coast District Health Board review into five homicides involving mental health patients in 2015 and 2016.
The review revealed Capital & Coast DHB's community services were receiving between 400 and 500 referrals a month, with only 19 fulltime staff and two psychiatrists.
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"We know our mental health system is in crisis ... every day, we're struggling to do our jobs," PSA mental health delegates wrote in an open letter to the people of the Wellington region, published in The Dominion Post.
The delegates said they had been asking for a new alarm system for two years for a site that had a 15-second delay.
"That can be the difference between life and death," they said. "We've asked [Coleman] time and time again to address our concerns. But he maintains there is no problem."
Coleman has not said there is a problem, but he has acknowledged increasing demand is being placed on mental health and addiction services.
In 2013, suicide was the third-leading cause of premature death in New Zealand after heart disease and lung cancer.
"To help meet this increase in demand, we've increased mental health and addiction services funding from $1.1 billion in 2008-09 to over $1.4b for 2015-16," Coleman said.
He does not accept there was a need for a national inquiry into mental health services, despite calls from the Green Party.
"A national inquiry in itself isn't going to improve access to services. But there's always more to do, and we are doing more," he said.
"For example, Budget 2016 includes $12m of funding over four years to increase support for people to access mental health services at an earlier stage."
In a further statement, PSA national secretary Glenn Barclay said more than $1.7b had "vanished" from the health budget, and the ring fence around mental health funding exists "in name only".
Under the ring fence, the Ministry of Health allocates money to DHBs specifically for mental health, with the amount determined by mental health spending over the past 16 years.
Every DHB is required to spend more than they had the year before, regardless of what the population-based funding provides.
Coleman said the Health Ministry did ring fence funding for mental health within the overall funding provided to DHBs, which have been required to maintain this ring fence funding since 2001 to protect service investment and development.
The claim that $1.7b had vanished was simply untrue, he said.
"The Government's investment in health will reach a record $16.1b in 2016-17. That's an extra $568 million this year - the biggest single increase in seven years."