Mike King furious at 'clowns' at Ministry of Health for 'incompetent' handling of $1.9b mental health investment

Mike King says families are suffering due to the Ministry of Health's "incompetent" handling of the Government's $1.9 billion investment in mental health.

Speaking to The AM Show on Friday, the comedian and mental health advocate said the current situation is "beyond a joke".

King was appointed an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to mental health awareness and suicide prevention in 2019. But in a letter to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Thursday, he said while he was honoured to receive the award at the time, it no longer sits comfortably with him.

"Every day I'm seeing families and they're looking at me and they don't feel like anyone is seeing them or hearing them or cares," he told The AM Show on Friday.

He says returning his award is how he can show families he stands with them.

"I'm saying 'I see you, I hear you and I'm standing with you'."

He criticised Health Minister Andrew Little and the Ministry of Health for their "incompetence".

"The Minister Andrew Little said in February capacity is a problem - there weren't enough councillors. At 10:30am that same morning I was in his office telling him we had 3584 councillors nationwide, ready to go at an average cost of $134, and the only thing missing was someone to pay for it."

King went on to say the Ministry of Health doesn't know where the $1.9 billion cash splash from 2020's Budget has gone.

"There is more than enough money in the system - it's just the incompetence at the top. It is so up the creek without a paddle it's ridiculous, and families are suffering."

In a statement to Newshub, Ardern says she doesn't believe King has been in touch with her recently about this, but wanted to assure him and others they know the work to improve mental health in New Zealand isn't complete yet. 

"We have made good steps but know there is much more to do," she says.

But King says that's not good enough - and the Ministry of Health needs to get its act together.

"How many kids in this country have to die before these clowns wake up?"

Toni Gutschlag, the Ministry of Health deputy director-general for mental health and addiction, told Newshub the Ministry is "committed to making sure mental wellbeing support and services are available to young people".

While she didn't respond directly to King's comments, Gutschlag pointed out several areas where the ministry is improving mental health services, including:

  •  Making "good progress" on rolling out a programme of work which will give youth greater access and variety of mental health and addiction information and support
  • Investing in youth-specific mental health and wellbeing services including specific youth services in 13 different areas. 
  • Providing $1 million to Youthline
  • Making it easier for young people to get help through their GP 
  • Rolling out tailored services for Māori and Pacific peoples
  • Looking at specific services to provide support for Rainbow youth and supporting health workforces to better understand the needs of Rainbow young people

She said through the COVID-19 response, the Ministry of Health has invested in digital tools suitable for youth and is "currently looking to put a more permanent option in place to make sure young people have tools to help them look after themselves".

Alongside this she said the 2019 Government Budget provided funding to expand School Based Health Services to all publicly-funded decile 5 schools and in 2018 the Ministry invested in Mana Ake – Stronger for Tomorrow, providing wellbeing support to approximately 60,000 students in years 1–8 across Canterbury and Kaikoura schools. 

"Over the next year, we are designing similar services in five more areas around the country. This is part of the Government’s commitment to roll Mana Ake out across New Zealand."