Treasury found Minister of Health's mental health strategy not 'coherent' two months before Budget

Treasury has criticised Health Minister Jonathan Coleman's mental health strategy.

Treasury has criticised Health Minister Jonathan Coleman's mental health strategy.

An "incredibly damning" Treasury report criticised the Minister and Ministry of Health's (MOH) failure to deliver an effective mental health strategy.

A report published online shows Treasury officials pushed Finance Minister Steven Joyce to shelve Health Minister Jonathan Coleman's strategy two months ahead of Budget 2017.

It sparked a new cross-agency approach, but Opposition parties say the report show the ministry and minister "don't understand the mental health sector", which is unacceptable. Coleman says mental health is a "complex area" and it is Treasury's role to provide independent feedback.

Green Party health spokeswoman Julie Anne Genter says the Ministry and the Minister of Health's lack of understanding of ...
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Green Party health spokeswoman Julie Anne Genter says the Ministry and the Minister of Health's lack of understanding of mental health is unacceptable.

The report comes as a potentially damning State Services Commission performance review of the embattled MOH is in the works and after the ministry's $38 million budget blunder caused chaos for several district health boards (DHBs) around the country.

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A March 2017 report briefing Joyce on Budget 2017's health package highlighted the ministry's failure to put forward a coherent mental health bid. 

Labour health spokesman David Clark says the Treasury reports are "incredibly damning" for the Ministry and the Minister ...
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Labour health spokesman David Clark says the Treasury reports are "incredibly damning" for the Ministry and the Minister of Health.

"The mental health package presented by the Ministry of Health is an assemblage of bids separately developed by individual agencies, not under a coherent strategy, and without an understanding of the mental health population, workforce and interventions across the social sector," it said.

"We don't have confidence that the ministry will develop an effective mental health strategy in the specified timeframes, if at all."

The report said other social sector agencies "have been frustrated that the concerns they are experiencing from people with mental health-related conditions have been inadequately recognised".

The ministry had been unable to "articulate a clear picture of the mental health landscape, including the mental health population (and how it overlaps across agencies), unmet need, the workforce (including capacity), and the nature and effectiveness of interventions available".

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The report advised Joyce to "push for the establishment of a genuine cross-agency mental health strategy rather than assuming the model that the Minister of Health has proposed".

Labour health spokesman David Clark said the report was "incredibly damning".

"It's been a failure of leadership from start to finish. The ministry and minister of health don't understand the mental health sector.

Green Party health spokeswoman Julie Anne Genter said the MOH's failure to develop a mental health strategy was "completely unacceptable".

"It's very concerning, but consistent with what we have been hearing in the community.

"I agree with Treasury that a cross-agency strategy needs to be pursued."

She said the ministry and minister's lack of understanding of the sector confirmed the need for a nationwide inquiry into mental health.

She supported re-establishing the mental health commission, which was helping create the blueprint for mental health services in New Zealand.

MOH deputy chief policy officer Hannah Cameron said a "major programme of work" was under way "to work out how to shift the current mental health system so that our health, justice, education and welfare systems work in an integrated way to promote mental health".

The cross-agency team included members from the Ministries of Health, Education and Social Development as well as the Social Investment Agency.

"The original timeframe for the work on a mental health strategy has been extended significantly to ensure that a robust approach is taken," Cameron said. 

Budget 2017, announced on May 25, included $124m for "new innovative approaches", but these were yet to be announced.

Coleman said: "The drivers of mental health and addition are complex, and there is no simple answer as to why across the world we are seeing increased demand."

"We have taken a cross-agency approach to this issue. I expect to have more to say on the details of the new initiatives being funded in the coming weeks."

 - Stuff

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