Need for New Zealand mental health services at 'breaking point' - Association of Salaried Medical Specialists

The AM Show 24/09/2020

This article is courtesy of Newshub reporter Mark Quinlivan

A shortage of beds in mental health facilities is straining the system, leaving doctors at risk of abuse and assault, the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists says.

Executive director Sarah Dalton addressed the state of mental health services in New Zealand outlining several issues, saying the state of the system is at "breaking point".

"This is a problem that's been building for quite a long time and we're not going to be able to turn it around on a dime," Dalton told The AM Show. "One of the problems is such massive international vacancies and shortages for psychiatrists - that's a particular problem for our members.

There are, at least, 3 or 4 percent of our population who are acutely unwell in terms of mental health and their needs are not really being met right now.

In last year's Budget, the Government invested $1.9 billion in mental health services - including $455m to offer frontline services for 325,000 people who need mental health support before they experience major problems.

"We want to make it as easy as possible for people to get support when they need it, which is why we are integrating this new initiative into the health services people use most often like GPs," former Health Minister David Clark said at the time. 

But Dalton said doctors are still not being taken seriously, leaving them stressed and burned out.

"There's no doubt the Government has invested a lot more but, as you say, you can't fix it overnight and we probably need to start having a long, hard look at how much it really costs and how much are we all prepared to pay to make sure people can be cared for safely."

"Some people are encountering violence and assaults in the workplace, which is awful."

We need to do better and we know that it is taking a toll on our members who are senior doctors; they are psychiatrists and they are trying to give the best care.

A spokesperson for current Health Minister Chris Hipkins said the Government is investing heavily in upgrading acute mental health facilities.

"This Government has made record investments in mental health. Budget 2019 included $1.9b across a range of portfolios including Health, Housing and Corrections.

"The centrepiece Health initiative was the five year rollout of free mental health support at GPs, iwi and Pacific Health providers and youth settings for people with mild to moderate mental health needs - That service is already available at more than 70 GP clinics across 12 DHBs and has provided more than 33,000 sessions so far to people in need of support."

Funding has also been increased for existing DHB mental health services, the spokesperson said.

There have also been a number of specific investments in addiction services.

In 2018, a ministerial inquiry into New Zealand's mental health services painted a sobering picture of the sector. As a result, the Government committed to the expansion of talk therapies, alcohol, and other drugs (AOD) services and culturally-aligned therapies, before Budget 2019 was announced. 

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This article is courtesy of Newshub reporter Mark Quinlivan