Andrew Little clarifies Government's mental health spend after revelations of just five extra acute beds in facilities

Health Minister Andrew Little has clarified the Government's spend on mental health services, saying more has been given than what was previously reported.

The Ministry of Health came under fire last week after it was revealed just 0.2 percent of $235 million set aside for building mental health and addiction facilities had actually been spent.

The money was part of a $1.9 billion mental health package announced in 2019, but just five extra acute mental health beds have materialised since then.

Last week, Little said he would order a review to see what the holdup is and where that money has gone.

"We seem to be a long way behind actually getting a shovel in the ground," he said.

"I think it is timely to do a stock take and find out exactly how decisions have been made, where we're at, how far we have to go, and I think that is probably best conducted independently of the ministry."

He's now given an update on how much of that $235 million has been spent.

"Of the $235 million for building or seriously upgrading five acute facilities that are in desperate need of it, actually, a lot more than the 0.2 percent has been spent - about $9 million actually," he told The Hui on Monday.

"The nature of these facilities are they do take a long time in terms of planning and then construction. Construction for none of them was due to begin until next year - $9 million has been spent on the planning, the consenting, and getting things ready, so that stuff is happening."

Little also says some of the $1.9 billion has gone to other Government departments.

Andrew Little.
Andrew Little. Photo credit: The Hui

"[Of the] $1.9 billion committed in 2019, about $800 million of that has gone to departments other than the Ministry of Health, so Corrections, Education, MSD, and they're doing stuff with it.

"Of the $1.1 billion that Health [ministry] has got, I can tell you that nearly $750 million of that has either been spent or committed for the four-year period over the period of change that we're doing. About nearly $300 million has actually gone out the door up to this week."

There's also an extra 520 positions in primary mental health care and addiction services, GP and community clinics, kaupapa Māori health services, and Pasifika health services.

In terms of expanding mental health services that are funded and committing money to organisations like Mike King's Gumboot Friday, which provides free counselling to five to 24-year-olds, Little says there are several requirements professionals have to meet before they can see children, even though that may seem "bureaucratic".

"We have a law that says anybody providing professional services to children have to go through a vetting process. That's one of the conditions that has to be met," he says.

"This has been an issue that we've debated many, many years… Children are too vulnerable to allow just anybody to deal with them on a personal basis.

"We're actually going to have some safeguards in place and some standards, so that's what we do."

Gumboot Friday counsellors all have a practicing certificate according to founder Mike King.

Little says they're expanding Mana Ake, which provides mental health services to children, continuing and broadening the Piki pilot, and have given extra money to Youthline.

"What we do in the primary mental health care and addiction area, those frontline roles that we've added, 520 around the country just so far, is making a difference to people of all ages."

Andrew Little clarifies Government's mental health spend after revelations of just five extra acute beds in facilities