Mental health nurse says sector 'worse than ever'

A veteran nurse working with mental health patients says frontline services desperately need more staff, and the sector is worse than she's ever seen it.

On Thursday the Government announced plans to improve the mental health sector, but the opposition says it was scrabbled together.

A new improvement programme will cost $7.5 million over five years, and will come out of District Health Boards' existing baselines. Critics say that's not good enough.

Mental health nurse Nancy Dally's works with patients including those who have bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, personality disorders, and some are suicidal.

She has been working in the sector for 40 years, and says "it's worse than i've ever seen it before."

"Nurses can work up to 15 hours a day, double shifts, on a regular basis because we're so short staffed, and we're short of doctors."

Dr Coleman acknowledged the problem of mental health with the announcement of the national improvement programme.

"We may not be able to control or prevent those things that trigger mental health problems but we can work to improve wellbeing and resilience throughout our communities," he says.

But Labour health spokesman David Clark says it's been scrabbled together by the health minister.

"Essentially it is a review that is not called a review that's going to be funded within existing baselines, and is going to be reviewed again in 3 years time" he says.

While there has been a 60.82 percent increase in people using mental health services since 2007/08, in the same time period there has been a 28 percent increase in mental health funding.

Dr Coleman says there will also be funding in the Budget for mental health as part of the social investment package - but Ms Dally says frontline staff need more help.

"I know early intervention is important but it's also having the staff to serve that service and to be able to see those clients because they end up coming to us you see."

There's recognition from the Health Minister that mental health is a huge issue, funding will be allocated from already stretched District Health Boards.

Details on further funding will be revealed in a fortnight in the next Budget.