Mike King slams Lifeline, claims it refused help with unanswered calls

Mental health advocate Mike King has claimed suicide prevention helpline Lifeline "refused" the help of external services to help deal with unanswered calls.

Last week, Lifeline appealed for public donations, revealing that one in four calls is being missed due to resource restrictions.

Lifeline, which is staffed by paid employees and volunteers, still gets 10,000 calls and 3800 texts each month after failing to win government funding for its helpline in 2015.

Need to Talk?, the fully-funded service, receives about 2300 calls and 2500 conversations a month and is attached to the National Telehealth Service which spearheads five mental health and addictions contact services.  

Taking to his Facebook page on Wednesday afternoon, Mr King stated that an opportunity for neglected phone calls to be picked up was dismissed. 

His post questioned the organisation's senior management, who Mr King believes are "not giving all the facts about why Lifeline are in the position they are in".

In the post, Mr King drew attention to three "facts" - in his second point stating that after Homecare Medical NZ secured the contract, Lifeline rebuffed an invitation to be "part of the team".

In his third point, Mr King said Homecare Medical who founded the National Telehealth Service offered to "take the Lifeline overload so no calls go unattended", which was "refused".

"It's this last fact that I really struggle with," he wrote.

"If you genuinely care about saving people's lives and you can't take a suicidal person's call, why the hell wouldn't you pass them on to a service willing and able to take those calls?" he said.

Mr King praised the work done by hard-working Kiwis who volunteer their time to help at-risk New Zealanders in their time of need in the social media update.

"They are the unsung heroes of this story," he wrote.

"Honest hard working Kiwis who give up their time to help the most vulnerable in our society. Every single one of them deserves acknowledgement and they all have my love and respect".

Mr King called for answers, telling his followers he was "bloody confused" to learn the calls are not being passed on.

In a statement provided to Newshub, Lifeline said they were aware of Mr King's comments. 

"Lifeline has an existing [Memorandum of Understanding] with Homecare Medical. This means where appropriate, we do refer callers to some of their services and other specialised helplines.

"We will continue to actively foster engagement with other service providers to ensure people receive the best possible service they need at the time they need it.

"Lifeline acknowledges Mike King's comments and welcomes an opportunity to kōrero with him.

"We know there has been some frustration with past decisions, but we'd like to reassure all Kiwis that these don't reflect the thinking and actions of our current leadership team.

"We are all focused on helping reduce suicide in Aotearoa and by working together it will make this aspirational goal more achievable.”

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