Jacinda Ardern pushes back on $1.9 billion mental health spend claims

Jacinda Ardern says it's not true the Government hasn't spent much of the $1.9 billion it invested in mental health in 2019.

The latest Newshub-Reid Research poll found 70 percent of voters didn't think the Government was doing enough for mental health, despite the $1.9 billion investment.

And a Newshub report in June revealed just 0.2 percent of $235 million set aside for building mental health and addiction facilities had actually been spent. 

Appearing on The AM Show on Monday, Prime Minister Ardern was discussing the Government's new $1.2 million Mental Wellbeing Innovation Fund - targeted at the likes of Mike King's Gumboot Friday.

"While we're looking to fund and support Gumboot Friday, we shouldn't take away the responsibility we have to fix our [health] system nationally," she said.

But host Duncan Garner questioned Ardern on the health system, putting it to her that the Government had "barely" spent any of the $1.9 billion mental health investment. Newshub also revealed in June just five extra acute mental health beds had been added since that investment.

"No no, that's actually not true Duncan - and I am going to push back on that," Ardern responded.

"It is a five-year programme - right at the beginning when this piece of work was done… those who were consumers, who had experienced the system said: 'We've got to build something that stops people needing acute care.

"If we just build acute beds, we will be forgetting that we've got to do more to support people earlier on."

Despite this, Ardern acknowledged acute mental health care also needed improvement.

"In some parts of the country, yes - people move through quickly. In others, the wait time in private care is longer than it is in public."

Jacinda Ardern.
Jacinda Ardern. Photo credit: Getty Images

Ardern also pointed to what she called a global shortage of clinical psychologists for young people and children.

"We do recruit globally but there is a global shortage, and there is a global crisis on mental health too."

Earlier in the interview, Ardern threw her support behind Gumboot Friday when discussing the Mental Wellbeing Innovation Fund.

But King, a staunch mental health advocate who has repeatedly clashed with the Government over a lack of action in the sector, has ruled out applying - saying it was "mischievous" to suggest they might be.

Nonetheless, Ardern said the Government had made the application process easy for those wanting to apply.