‘Broken’ mental health system will take time to rebuild – Health Minister

The AM Show 17/07/2018

The Government will prioritise rebuilding New Zealand’s "broken mental health system", says Health Minister David Clark.

But Dr Clark emphasised that the process will "take time".

The Government put around $249 million into mental health in Budget 2018, which Dr Clark says it's the largest amount of funding allocated in ten years. Overall spending in health has been bumped up $3.2 billion over four years.

"One of the big things we've done so far is put an extra $200 million into existing services and DHBs as part of our budget. We put the biggest amount in ten years into health," he told The AM Show.

But there are still many Kiwis who don't have access to mental health services. A lot of people are struggling with mild-to-moderate mental health needs and a lot of them haven't been able to afford to visit a doctor.

We put the biggest amount in ten years into health.

"There are mental health workers who care about this and I want to acknowledge those who turn up to work every day and often in quite stretched environments. Many wards have been understaffed for years. Those families should keep reaching out for help because there are people who want to support them."

A ministerial inquiry into mental health is due to be released in October about the findings. But the Government has been criticised for appearing to not care enough about the issue.

National Party leader Simon Bridges has slammed the Government for scrapping a plan to help police deal with callouts involving people with mental illnesses. He said parents with a violent teen don't want a police officer showing up being "heavy-handed".

Despite snubbing the idea, Dr Clark insists that training and accumulating more mental health staff is a priority of the Government. He said one of the things the Government is looking at is "safe staffing which is a focus talking point of the nurses' strike".

When asked by host Duncan Garner whether some hospitals could be considered “unsafe” under current working conditions for nurses’, Dr Clark held his ground.

“I don’t think they’re unsafe but I do think they’re stretched. I think the workforce has been stretched for too long.

“You can only pull a rubber band for so long, if that makes sense,” he said.

His comments come as some ACC staff prepare to strike on Tuesday morning. As many as 39 medical advisors walked off the job due to the organisation’s approach to their wellbeing and salary disparities.

Meanwhile, the New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) and DHBs are negotiations.

Watch the full interview with David Clark above.

The AM Show with Duncan Garner, Amanda Gillies and Mark Richardson, weekdays 6-9am on RadioLIVE and streaming live to the rova app on Android and iPhone.