Mosque attacks: Still no funding plan for mental health needs

11:19 am on 8 May 2019

The Health Ministry still cannot say what extra mental health funding will be provided to Christchurch following the mosque shootings.

People gather outside Al Noor Mosque

People gather outside Al Noor Mosque Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

It is almost two months since the attacks on 15 March in which 51 people died and 38 were injured.

The quakes eight years ago, in Christchurch and later Kaikoura, taught Canterbury District Health Board all it needed to know about disasters and recovery.

Its Mental Health General Manager, Toni Gutschlag, said they had worked on a recovery plan following the mosque massacre and knew what they needed to implement it.

"In terms of increasing support requirements available to people from a mental health perspective, which includes those that have been directly affected, as well as the broader community."

It also included "developing some specialist services for those people that were directed affected", and added it was around treatment for post traumatic stress disorder.

Dr Gutschlag said the DHB was unique in that it already offered specialist anxiety treatment, but wanted to treat post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, too.

"However, the needs of the directly affected people in this circumstance may be different and we believe we need to tailor our response. And we will need to increase the team resources to be able to do that."

Dr Gutschlag would not detail the extra resources it believed it would need but said it would include more staff in specialist services. She said it was being discussed with the Health Ministry.

"I'd prefer not to talk about any detail at the moment because we are in discussions with the Ministry, but I am anticipating that we will have a response back within the next week or two."

The Ministry's Deputy Director of Mental Health, Ian Soosay, would not confirm any timing but said the Ministry was working closely with DHB.

He added that Christchurch residents affected by the shootings were getting the care they needed, including things like free GP visits.

"My understanding is that people are doing what they need to do at the moment and the details about the immediate response, the finances around the immediate response, are being worked out between us and Canterbury as they emerge, and actually as the sums are toted up."

Dr Soosay indicated there could be extra funding for the DHB to help with its recovery from the attacks in the upcoming government Budget at the end of this month.

But whether there could be anything earlier is unclear. "There may be additional financial resources coming as they're needed, but they're in a kind of line by line basis as required as they emerge, as opposed to a ... pre kind of drawn-up package."

Christchurch's Mental Health Advocacy and Peer Support group MHAPs said some Christchurch residents still needed mental health help, and were not getting it.

Fiona Clapham Howard, the group's service director said there were some reports that people directly affected by the mosque attacks were finding it hard to access the financial support they needed, "let alone the human and face to face support and contact they might need as well."

That's backed by surgeon Phil Bagshaw of the Canterbury Charity Hospital, who said "Investing money now will save a lot of anxieties for people and will actually save costs in the long run."

He added the hospital has 20 counsellors - down from 38 - providing an average of 72 appointments a week for those in need.