Government’s mental health response a positive step forward; now for the detail
“The Government’s response to its mental health review appears to be a significant step in the right direction but we now need the detail to see how much of a difference it will truly make,” says Lyndon Keene, Director of Policy and Research at the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS).
He was commenting on the Government’s long-awaited announcement today about how it will respond to the recommendations of its review of New Zealand’s mental health and addiction services (https://www.beehive.govt.nz/release/taking-mental-health-and-addiction-seriously). As expected, the Government will set up a new independent Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission to provide leadership and oversight of mental health and addiction services, among a raft of changes announced.
Mr Keene welcomed the announcement, saying it is a positive move to ensure the new Commission is independent.
“What we need to see now is the level of funding the Government will be putting into this and the mandate for the new Commission,” he says.
“If it doesn’t have any teeth, then it will be just another organisation with good intentions and lots of ideas but no real bite. It needs to be properly resourced so it can make a meaningful difference.”
Mr Keene welcomes the move to increase access to services for those with ‘mild to moderate’ needs but says the Government also needs to address the shortfall in access to mental health and addiction services for those with more severe needs.
As the Inquiry report noted, “DHBs must fund ‘specialist services’ for at least 3% of their population; once that target is reached, DHBs may use any remaining funding for other mental health and addiction services.” The 3% target was based on estimates from the 1990s.
Currently about 3.7% of the population access specialist services, but a Ministry report estimated 4.7% of the population had severe needs (P16, The Specialist magazine https://www.asms.org.nz/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/The-Specialist-Issue-118.pdf). The figure of 4.7% is provided in a 2006 Ministry report (https://www.health.govt.nz/system/files/documents/publications/mental-health-survey.pdf).
The mental health and addiction specialist workforce is already under enormous strain. Improving access to these services will require immediate attention to addressing workforce shortages, Mr Keene says.