Greens call for mental health inquiry

Green Party health spokesman Kevin Hague (Simon Wong)
Green Party health spokesman Kevin Hague (Simon Wong)

Pressure is mounting for an urgent nationwide inquiry into mental health services.

Green Party health spokesperson Kevin Hague says DHBs are struggling to cope with an erosion of funding as well as an increase in patients, and this is forcing mental health services to make cuts.

It follows a number of reviews that have found DHBs' mental health services around the country to be under strain.

An inquiry into Waikato DHB, sparked by the suicide of patient Nicky Stevens, found mental health is well managed and led but is under "considerable pressure", stemming from overworked and stressed staff.

"If you imagine the fabric of mental health services being stretched thinner and thinner, it's now becoming threadbare," says Mr Hague.

"There are gaps appearing, and gaps in mental health services could lead to a death, as it has in this case."

Mr Hague also points to a recent external review of the Tumanako mental health unit in Whangarei hospital, which found the service is crisis-driven and staff morale is low.

Northland DHB's mental health services have seen staff turnover of almost 25 percent over the past two years.

Another report from the Council of Trade Unions says since 2009 the shortfall in mental health funding has risen upward of $1 billion.

Minister for Health Jonathan Coleman said earlier in the week the Government has increased funding for mental health and addiction services from $1.1 billion in 2008/09 to more than $1.4 billion in 2015/16.

Mr Hague says despite this the situation is much worse than it was 10 years ago, and he hopes an inquiry will prompt a greater allocation of funding to address critical needs in the sector.

A demonstration was also held outside Dunedin Hospital today, protesting reductions in funding and support for mental health.

Spokesperson for advocacy group Stop the Cuts Scout Barber-Evans says the protest is about sending a message to the minister.

"People in Dunedin are not happy with the current state of affairs regarding mental health treatment. There are people who are suffering because they can't access the treatment that they are desperately needing.

"I have spoken to the Southern District Health Board here, who have told me they have got about a $50 million budget a year for mental health, but their costs at a minimum are about $52 million."

Mx Barber-Evans added the blame for holes in the service should not fall on mental health workers.

"We know it really has to be stressful turning so many people away who are desperately needing help," they say.

Labour MP for Dunedin South Clare Curran was at the protest and says she has seen an increase in desperation among people seeking help.

"The police are picking people up from their houses, bringing them down to the mental health service and they're being sent back home again. What kind of community does that?"

Dr Coleman was not immediately available for comment when approached by Newshub today.