'It's too important': Andrew Little frustrated at slow pace of mental health projects

Andrew Little says he and Grant Robertson are "shaking… a whole bunch of agencies" and the Ministry of Health to figure out why huge injections of cash don't seem to be making much difference for acute mental health patients. 

A recent Newshub-Reid Research poll found 70 percent of voters don't think enough is being done in mental health, despite a $1.9 billion investment in 2019. 

Two years into the five-year programme the Health Minister says there is a lot being done for people suffering mild to moderate mental health issues, citing hundreds of new frontline staff and counselling sessions and "starting the long-term work of building that future workforce pipeline".

"There are a lot of things that are going well," he told Newshub Nation on Saturday. 

"What's not going well is the one thing we committed to a couple of years ago - that is those mental health facilities for acute patients that desperately need rebuilding or upgrading. We're way behind on that. I'm frustrated by that. 

"That's why the Minister of Finance and I are working very hard to shake the system to say, we've just got to get these things done because it's too important."

Newshub revealed in June just five new places for acute mental health patients had been added since 2019, and doctors laughed in his face at a conference this week when he talked about indicators the Government uses to track its progress in the area. 

Despite the frustration, Little said he wasn't feeling let down by the health sector - saying COVID-19 had "compounded issues" that were already present. 

"We're all struggling with the huge challenge that we've got. There were challenges in the health sector before we took Government… then we were hit with COVID."

Little said he was looking for better ways to "accelerate" projects.

"We know what is needed, we've made the decisions, the money is there. We just need to get on with doing it."

Elsewhere in the interview, Little was questioned on why 605 critical workers' applications to come into New Zealand had been denied, a refusal rate of about 20 percent. Little said we need more health staff, and has been working with Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi on getting visas of those already here extended. 

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