Mental health services gets $6M funding boost, Prime Minister announces
Mental health services at 22 general practices will receive a $6 million funding boost, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Sunday.
This marks the start of government promises for a free mental healthcare package, and the first major investment in primary mental health from Budget 2019.
It will ensure 170,000 Kiwis will continue to receive mental health support at their local medical centres by the start of 2020.
It comes as the number of suicides in New Zealand has reached its highest-ever level, with 685 people dying in the year to June 30.That compares to the 2018 road toll where 377 lives were lost.
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"What we are doing today is beginning to transform the mental health care for Kiwis," Ardern said.
"For too long mental health has been neglected. We know there's huge need out there for mental health support – that's why we made investing in mental health such a priority in the Wellbeing Budget."
Ardern was joined by Health Minister David Clark, to make the announcement at an Auckland general practice: Local Doctors Dawson in Flatbush.
This practice has been successfully running a self-funded, "no referral holistic" model of mental health care, one of 22 in the country helping 170,000 people.
Doctor David Codyre, clinical lead and registered psychiatrist, said current referral-based methods do not work because the most in need never follow up.
"This model sees a health care practitioner added to the team, so when a patient does present with mental health concerns they are walked down the corridor and dealt with on that day," he said.
These pilot schemes have been immensely successful, having seen more people treated in the first two months than in the previous year, Codyre said.
This $6 million will fund Local Doctors Dawson and the 22 other general practices, including a kaupapa Māori provider, who have previously never had funding.
These practices are across seven District Health Boards, nationally.
Also, the Ministry of Health will shortly be putting out to tender $30 million of new contracts to begin rolling out new free front line mental health services in new areas starting early 2020.
Ardern acknowledged the need to build up the workforce, but it made sense to start with providers already offering mental health support, considering those providers had not been directly funded before.
"This is the largest change to mental health New Zealand has seen," she said.
"There has always been time built in to the plan to develop the workforce - that's why it's a five year plan.
"This announcement means these existing providers have the certainty they need to invest in their workforce and facilities. There is a massive gap in primary care and we are filling that. That is has never been done before and that is a significant step."
Health Minister David Clark said Sunday's announcement demonstrates "we're getting on with the job".
He said recent suicide statistics is one of the reasons the government has been taking mental health seriously from the very start.
"We need to make it easier for people to get help early, so that we can prevent small issues becoming major problems," he said.
Clark said it was about normalising mental health treatment to a place where people felt as comfortable going to their local GP about a mental health issue as they would any other issue.
The aim is to see 325,000 New Zealanders a year accessing these services in five years.
"We've also received consistent feedback about the success of the kaupapa approach of Te Kuwatawata. Its emphasis on whanau and matauranga (knowledge and understanding) has helped many who haven't found success with mainstream approaches."
Wellbeing Budget will provide $445 million over four years to make primary care funding available, which will also expand regional coverage over time.
Of that, $62 million has been ringfenced specifically for kaupapa māori services.