Agencies shy from judge's view of health services

GWYNETH HYNDMAN
Last updated 05:00 30/08/2012

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Government departments appear to be passing the buck when it comes to backing mental health and addiction services in Southland.

Judge Raoul Neave voiced frustration last Tuesday about budget constraints that hampered efforts to reduce prison populations.

He questioned how offending rates could be reduced if various services were constrained by funding issues. If the legislature wanted to reduce crime, it needed to provide more flexible tools.

Judge Neave made the comments after jailing Benjamin Paul Vercoe for six months on two charges of assaulting a female, though the "obvious place" for Vercoe to go was into mental health services.

This week, The Southland Times took the judge's comments to government departments to ask who was responsible for gaps in mental health services in the south:

The Justice Ministry said it was an issue for the Corrections Ministry.

The Corrections Ministry referred questions to the office of Corrections Minister Anne Tolley. Ms Tolley's press secretary said there would be no comment, and recommended contacting the Health Ministry.

The Health Ministry said it would be best to approach the Southern District Health Board.

On Tuesday, the board's mental health and addictions medical director, Dr Alfred Dell-Ario, said it was inappropriate to comment on a judge's comments in court.

Vercoe's lawyer, Mike Newell, said last Tuesday that his client was stuck in a situation where mental health services did not want to know about it and other agencies were not able to help.

Labour's justice spokesman, Charles Chauvel, said he had been aware of gaps in the system in Southland for some time.

He believed it was a health issue, but one that the Justice Ministry and the courts minister should be taking a stand on.

Mr Chauvel said he would be writing to Courts Minister Chester Borrows about this issue.

Number 10 youth centre manager Jocelyn Johnstone agreed with Judge Neave's comments.

The centre has a contract with the health board and with the Social Development Ministry, but there was definitely room for the centre to work with government departments more, she said.

The centre offers health services to young people aged 10 to 24. About 3700 were now enlisted, and about 40 per cent of the centre's work was in mental health services, with three volunteer counsellors on board.

It was a need that had "grown and grown", said Ms Johnstone. "We've really got to watch those cracks and plug them."

It was also important for the different agencies to be communicating because it was too "easy to do your own thing in your service".

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"We are filling a gap but not all the gaps," she said. A memorandum of understanding was being worked on so all agencies in the region would be working together in the same way.

Adventure Development psychologist and Southland area manager Clive McArthur said there were gaps in every sector - and the line between mental health issues and behavioural issues could become blurry.

He hoped the health board's mental health and addiction sector plan, "Raise Hope", adopted in May and still in its implementation phase, would be a step forward in addressing this.

Yesterday, the health board's mental health and addictions directorate general manager, Louise Travers, and Future Directions co-ordinator Richard Harris, organised a telephone conference about services offered through New Directions, a network of 180 organisations in the south working in the mental health and addictions area.

They could not comment on Judge Neave's remark but, when asked about gaps in services, Mr Harris said it was not so much gaps as being mindful of the services being provided.

gwyneth.hyndman@stl.co.nz

- The Southland Times

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