Review finds no change in access to specialist mental health services in 5 years despite $1.9 billion funding increase

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The government allocated $1.9 billion to mental health in Budget 2019 in response to the Mental Health and Addictions (He Ara Oranga) Survey, which estimated the annual cost of serious mental illness , including addiction, to $12 billion.

But Newshub revealed in June that only five new places for patients with acute mental illness had been added since 2019, while a Newshub-Reid Research poll found 70% of voters didn’t think enough was being done. of mental health.

The government commissioned a review in July to assess progress on the $1.9 billion investment. He found that the initiatives funded under the program were on track to deliver what was planned by at least 2024.

But it also highlighted a lack of accountability over the package, with different agencies focusing on their area, without a cohesive overall plan to work together.

Health Minister Andrew Little admitted the Department of Health had “struggled to achieve as much as we would have liked” on mental health.

the latest report from the mental health and wellbeing commission found that while the mental health and addictions sector continues to provide services at pre-pandemic levels, access to specialist mental health and addictions services has not changed over the past five years.​

The review also found:

  • one in five people are not followed up after being discharged from short-term inpatient mental health units
  • one in six is ​​readmitted to hospital within 28 days of discharge
  • there is a lack of data on mental health and addictions needs
  • wait times for young people to access specialized mental health services continue to be high
  • Maori continue to experience disproportionately higher rates of community treatment orders and solitary confinement
  • the number of community treatment orders has increased at the same rate as the use of specialized mental health services over the past five years​
  • there was an overall increase in the use of solitary confinement from 2016 to 2020

Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission Board Chair Hayden Wano said that despite significant investments in mental health and addictions services in 2019, “improvements in services did not materialize as we had hoped during this period”.

“We welcome the investment in additional and much-needed primary and community services, but more is needed to respond to pressures on specialist services, particularly for young people.”

The report says the government has “made a promising start to act on the recommendations made in He Ara Oranga”, but “there is an understandable lag between the commissioning of new services and their establishment and operation, and difficulties in recruiting and retaining the necessary workforce impacts this”.

The report contains positive findings, including that the use of telehealth and digital supports is increasing as they become more available, and that access to primary mental health services has increased over the past year.

But there is clearly more work to be done. Wait times for mental health services have not decreased over the past five years, and wait times for addiction services have lengthened, according to the review.

“Despite the priority given to young people in government policy – ​​including the strategy for the well-being of children and young people, and the emphasis on improving access to support for young people – these times of expectations have worsened for young people since 2017/18.”

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