Mental health and addiction trial programmes follow review

Mental health patients are "pouring into" the emergency department at Wairau Hospital in Blenheim.
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Mental health patients are "pouring into" the emergency department at Wairau Hospital in Blenheim.

People are "pouring" into emergency departments with mental health issues, the Nelson Marlborough District Health Board says.

The board is trialling 49 new programmes in mental health and addiction services, hoping to ease that strain, with successful trials to be rolled out from July.

Chief executive Dr Peter Bramley​ spoke about the pressure staff were under at a public meeting about the draft Primary Community Health Strategy on Wednesday.

"We have people pouring into our EDs. We're doing a great job of helping them physically but we're not so good at helping them mentally," Bramley said.

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Many people wanted to see more resources for mental health services, feedback on the draft strategy showed, Bramley said.

Nelson Marlborough District Health Board chief executive Dr Peter Bramley says mental health services could change as ...
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Nelson Marlborough District Health Board chief executive Dr Peter Bramley says mental health services could change as new programmes are trialled. (File photo)

The draft described a model which drew patients away from hospitals and general practices in anticipation of increasing demand as the population grew and aged.

Long-term challenges identified included alcohol and tobacco usage, inequity in Maori health outcomes, obesity, and keeping the elderly population independent and active.

Feedback from the public on the draft focused on mental health and youth, Bramley said.

Some agencies reported dealing with mental health patients at crisis point whom they were not equipped to help.

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Mental Health Consumer Advocacy Service advocate Paula Taylor spoke earlier this month about suicidal clients coming to the Blenheim office for help accessing crisis services.

Blenheim-based counsellor Vienna Cassidy said some people who went to the emergency department for treatment after self-harming or an overdose did not receive immediate mental health support.

"They treat you and they send you home again because there's not enough staff to assess you right away.

"They could have to wait two weeks for psychological assessment."

Former chief executive Chris Fleming said in the mental health and addiction review such sweeping changes to mental health services would be a difficult process.

"Significant challenges to the models of care, culture, and integration across the organisation and the wider community is required."

The review recommended the board invest more in non-governmental organisations and primary health providers, and move funding from specialist services to do so.

There should be more collaboration between clinical services and mental health services, Fleming said.

"The organisational culture between mental health and addictions and the rest of the organisation is seen as being very problematic ... [a] divided culture that has evolved over time."

Bramley said at the meeting that mental health staff had already come up with ideas to improve services, and 49 trial programmes were underway.

"We're looking at respite, support services, the whole lot."

The final strategy should invest in treating mild and moderate cases to stop people reaching crisis point, Bramley said.

The board was also considering how it could link with services that lost funding contracts with the Ministry of Social Development in recent years, Bramley said.

"We're trying to get a whole picture before we make any decisions.

"We want to make sure we're funding [mental health services] properly and the funding is going where it should be."

The board would not describe the trials on Friday but said they were staggered and of "varying complexity".

Successful trial programmes could replace current service models from July.

More details would be revealed as final decisions were made.

 - The Marlborough Express

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