Ashley Bloomfield apologises to Andrew Little over incorrect information about mental health report

The Minister of Health says Dr Ashley Bloomfield has apologised to him for providing incorrect information about a mental health report released earlier this year. 

After much delay, the Office of the Director of Mental Health and Addiction Services in March released a report detailing statistics about New Zealand's mental health services over 2018 and 2019.

However, as Stuff revealed in April, the Ministry of Health removed key information from the normally annual report. It was reported as wanting to modernise how the data was presented and delays were blamed on COVID-19 by some officials. 

At the time, Minister of Health Andrew Little told Newshub: "All data typically available in the Director of Mental Health's report remains publicly available."

On April 7, he repeated that in the House under questioning from National's Matt Doocey.

"The information that appeared in previous reports by the Office of the Director of Mental Health and Addiction Services is available in other places, but most importantly is available in the Nationwide Service Framework that has been publicly available for 20 years."

But it turns out that wasn't exactly the case, with Little correcting the record on Tuesday afternoon. 

"I advised the House that all information historically published through the Office of the Director of Mental Health and Addiction Services' annual report is publicly available. I did that on the basis of advice from the Ministry of Health that this was the case."

Little said on Friday last week he received advice from the Ministry of Health saying that at the time of his statement "seven discrete pieces of relevant information were not publicly reported through other avenues".

He went on to table a briefing in which Dr Bloomfield, the Director-General of Health, "advises that information provided to me was not correct, and apologised to me for this". 

Dr Bloomfield said in the briefing that he didn't believe the ministry intended to mislead but the information "was clearly incorrect". 

"I recognise that the information provided to your office led you to make incorrect public statements about the availability of data that was previously included in the ODMHAS annual reports. I apologise for this and any embarrassment resulting from it."

Little said transparency within the health system through the publication of information "is very important to me". 

"This includes providing the public with robust, timely, and fit for purpose data about the performance of the mental health and addiction sector."

After the report was released, Mental Health Foundation chief executive Shaun Robinson told The AM Show the missing information reflected "either a cock-up or a conspiracy, and either way it doesn't look good".

Little, who admitted delays to releasing the report were unnecessary, didn't believe there was any malicious intent. 

"All the data that's in the report is publicly available. It appears in other publicly produced reports and it appears on that database. The allegation that somebody is trying to conceal something doesn't wash."

Little said the report isn't a statutory requirement, often arrives late and the amount of information it contains has "waxed and waned" in the 15 years it's been published. He said the decision to consolidate the 2018 and 2019 reports was made after COVID-19 hit.