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Patience running thin on mental health upgrades

8 July 2021 ASMS Media Release

The Association of Salaried Medical Specialists Toi Mata Hauora says patients and staff will be disappointed that an inquiry into progress on planned new mental health facilities has been knocked off the political agenda.

Government MPs on Parliament’s health select committee have blocked a National Party proposal for an inquiry into the delay in providing 15 new mental health inpatient facilities which would aim to accelerate progress and assess design standards.

In its recent report, What Price Mental Health? ASMS found that DHBs frequently exceed 100% occupancy levels for mental health inpatient beds, and the number of inpatient beds per population has fallen by nearly 10% in the past five years despite rising demand.

“These units are often so crowded they are unsafe for staff and patients,” says ASMS Executive Director Sarah Dalton.

“So many of our mental health facilities are inappropriate and not fit-for-purpose. People can’t get well in these environments, and psychiatrists repeatedly tell us that their working conditions are incredibly stressful and demoralising.”

Sarah Dalton says patience is running thin over continued promises of new or improved facilities and while the problems escalate, the system stands still.

“Whether an inquiry into the delays would make a tangible difference is hard to know, but any cross-party political initiative aimed at delivering progress would have been welcome,” Sarah Dalton says.

Addressing short staffing is also a key priority for action as mental health units struggle with desperate gaps.

“With the demand for mental health services growing exponentially, we urgently need to undertake some proper workforce planning across all areas of mental health”.

“These issues require cooperation in Parliament and cross-party agreement and commitment to addressing them,” Sarah Dalton says.