Wellington youth mental health service forced to turn away hundreds of patients

Cropped image of depressed man at the psychotherapist. Doctor is making notes while listening to his patient
Photo credit: Getty

A youth service in Wellington that provides counselling, support and medical care has turned away hundreds of new patients due to a strain on its services.

Evolve Wellington Youth Service, based on Cuba Street in the central city, has turned away around 800 patients since December last year. 

Chairperson Samuel Andrews said "This came from really, really high demand... we closed to maintain a safe clinical service."

Mr Andrews said the amount of funding being provided to Evolve did not meet the surge in demand the clinic has experienced over the past few years, especially in the area of mental health.

He said while the clinic has recently been given funding by the Capital and Coast District Health Board (CCDHB) to hire a new part-time GP, Evolve cannot cope with the demand for youth mental health services in Wellington alone. 

"It's also about other services being more accessible to young people," Mr Andrews said. 

"At the moment we need other services to step up, places young people can go to that they feel comfortable going to, and that they can go to more than once."

Evolve plans to open its books to new patients in October, "Initially with criteria again to make sure we're not overwhelmed," Mr Andrews said. 

He said the service attracts young people because it offers holistic care, is easy to find about out and easy to get to. 

"The one-stop model is good for youth, it's the most effective way to support young people by meeting their immediate needs, and provide care for them to be the person they want to be."

Labour health spokesperson David Clark says there's been a huge surge in demand among young people for access to mental health services and it's a "tragedy" to see Evolve turning patients away.

"I'm really worried about people being turned away. I hear too many tragic stories from communities where people haven't been able to find support who harm themselves or take their own lives.

"It's an absolute tragedy. It's a story of underfunding that we see all across the country. DHBs don't have enough funding."

Mr Clark said Labour will invest an extra $8 billion in the health sector over four years if elected to government. 

He said demand for mental health services has increased by 60 percent over the last decade, but funding had increased by less than 50 percent in the same period.

A spokesperson from Health Minister Jonathan Coleman's office said the strain on Evolve was "an operational matter for the DHB", and they are best placed to speak on the issue. 

Capital and Coast DHB planning and funding, child and population manager Taima Fagoloa said Evolve is "Wellington's 'one stop shop' for youth health and social support services and delivers an important service for young people in the community."

CCDHB funds the youth service alongside Primary Health Organisation (PHO) Compass Health. 

Ms Fagoloa said the DHB had provided additional funding to Evolve earlier this year so that they could employ a part-time GP.

"It would not be appropriate to provide details about that funding, but it is consistent with the proposal Evolve submitted to us," she said.

"Young people who cannot be seen by Evolve, and who are not in crisis, are referred to other available services. Services for young people in the community include those provided by universities, GP services, sexual health services, school-based health services, Lower Hutt's Vibe service, Kapiti Youth Support and more."