Mental health: Labour MP David Parker accuses Mental Health Foundation of not telling the truth about state of services

A senior Government minister has accused a top mental health advocate of not telling the truth about the state of the country's services.

Mental Health Foundation chief executive Shaun Robinson said on Thursday services for people struggling with their mental health have gone backwards in recent years, despite a massive injection of funding.

"Overall it has got worse, there's no doubt that it's got worse," he told The AM Show. "I think that the Government and the ministry underestimated the size of the problem. Right now today over a million people are struggling with their mental health." 

Asked if Robinson was telling the truth, Labour MP David Parker told The AM Show on Friday he was not.

"One of the main problems in the mental health system is that we had acute services, we didn't have services for people with lower levels, but nonetheless real levels, of needs. They're the people who are now getting service that didn't have any services available...

"A lot more people in that situation are getting care than used to." 

He said the present Government was the first to "put mental health really [at the centre] of health funding - $400 million being spent over four years, extra".

The criticism from Robinson came after the release of a much-delayed stocktake of the mental health system which contained less information than prior releases despite covering two years, rather than the usual one. It later emerged officials had clashed over its contents.

"It's either a cock-up or a conspiracy, and either way it doesn't look good," Robinson said.

Health Minister Andrew Little on Thursday said almost all of the information missing from this year's report is publicly available elsewhere, and the delay was down to the Ministry of Health having to focus on the COVID-19 response. 

National MP Simon Bridges, appearing on The AM Show with Parker, said he didn't know if it was a "cock-up".

"But I'd certainly say wilfully, information has been fought over by senior officials in Government to keep it out, and we need the full picture... Things are worse than they were three or four years ago, and I'm not standing here saying they were great back then. It's a real worry."

He said the Government is "more interested in image than actually trying to solve this".

"It's like every other area - it's announcements, it's all this feel-good stuff, but underneath it - whether it's housing or mental health, what needs to happen isn't happening."

David Parker.
David Parker. Photo credit: The AM Show

Parker said it was happening, even if it wasn't outlined clearly in the report. 

"There are more services being delivered to more people year by year, as we ramp up... [we know this] from the statistics that have been released... in other places. If it was a cover-up, it was a pretty poor one."

Documents provided to Stuff on Thursday showed ballooning wait times for mental health care at the district health board level - up from 21 days to 33 on average since Labour was elected in 2017. Some DHBs had average wait times as high as 72 days. 

Little blamed a backlog for the increase, saying people who didn't seek care during the COVID-19 lockdown rushed to get help once restrictions were lifted, despite the data only going up to July 2020. 

National leader Judith Collins has called for heads to roll at the Ministry of Health over the report, and said she'll be laying a complaint with the Public Services Commissioner