Lifeline at risk of closing down

Lifeline may be shutting down if it doesn't get more funding
Lifeline may be shutting down if it doesn't get more funding

One of the country's most well-known suicide helplines says the loss of Government contracts means it only has enough money to run for one more year.

Lifeline Aotearoa says unless it can get help from the public, it'll run out of funds by June 2017.

The service has operated since 1964 and answers about 15,000 calls a month from people dealing with a range issues, specialising in helping those at risk of suicide.

Lifeline board chair Ben Palmer said the loss of contracts to the Government's telehealth service and rejection of appeals for Government funding for its 24/7 helpline service meant even restructuring and taking out a mortgage couldn't keep the organisation running.

"We made the tough decision to cut a number of positions, including many of the management team, and our CEO will now work part time," he said.

"Unfortunately these changes only buy Lifeline another year. In that time the board will do whatever it can to try and secure the funds Lifeline requires annually to remain open, including launching further public support campaigns."

He said while there were other services around the country, none had the same expertise when it came to suicide and the service was good value-for-money.

He said there were 564 suicides last year in New Zealand and the Government was putting little priority on the crisis.

The Green Party said the closure would be another hit to an "already strained mental health system".

"When a service that receives 15,000 calls from New Zealanders in distress and needing mental health assistance is threatened with closure, there are serious questions about the viability of the entire mental health system," health spokesperson Kevin Hague said.

"A strained mental health system has already been palming people off onto these 0800 numbers, and if Lifeline services go under, then New Zealanders will have lost a significant safety net."

However, Prime Minister John Key has defended the decision.

"We worked with Lifeline around their bid, they were part of a bid with the eventual successful tenderer," he says. "They withdrew from that bid and then went alone."

He says that the services including mental health and gambling counselling will still be provided so no New Zealanders will miss out on the services they need.

"The key thing is all those services which Lifeline provides will be provided through new Government services - specifically that telehealth service."

He disagrees that suicide prevention isn't a priority for the Government.

"The Government's very focused on mental health services. The spend has increased by $300 million over the time in Government, and we’re working very hard to make sure that people get services they need."

He says he wanted Lifeline to be a services provider, but they didn't come through the tender process.

"Lifelife chose not be part of the bid with Homecare Medical."