30 Sep 2022

More than 500,000 mental health sessions delivered by government programme

3:23 pm on 30 September 2022
Andrew Little

Health Minister Andrew Little said the programme was on track to reach its target of providing free and immediate mental health support to 325,000 people within five years of its 2019 launch. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

More than half a million mental health sessions have been delivered to New Zealanders under the government's Access and Choice programme despite delays to the roll-out.

The primary mental health and addiction programme was announced in the 2019 Budget along with $664 million in funding over five years.

It has aimed to provide free and immediate mental health support to 325,000 people by year five across the country.

Access and Service involves kaupapa Māori, Pacific and youth providers as well as Integrated Primary Mental Health and Addiction which is accessed via a general practice.

Health Minister Andrew Little said the programme was on track to reach its target with 1000 contracted positions also created.

"We're rolling out free frontline services across the country and despite the disruption of Covid, we have delivered more than half a million sessions to date," Little said.

"These Access and Choice mental health services have supported nearly 105,000 New Zealanders with mild to moderate mental health needs over the 2021/22 financial year and we continue to scale up provision."

The programme filled a void that helped to prevent small issues becoming big problems, he said.

He announced the milestone at ADL - Thrive Pae Ora in Cromwell, a youth mental wellbeing support provider on Friday.

"This government's commitment to making mental health services available in places like GPs means the programme is providing easily accessible support that simply didn't exist a couple of years ago, benefiting thousands of New Zealanders every month.

"Rebuilding the mental health system is a big job and we're just three years into the plan but there's already been a huge change and it's making a real difference to New Zealanders."

Te Whatu Ora Southern has supported about 11,000 people across close to 32,000 sessions in the past financial year through the programme.

It recently opened a mental crisis respite care home to provide 24-hour residential support for adults experiencing acute mental distress.

"It will see an increase in Dunedin's mental health respite capacity - from 365 bed nights per year to an estimated 1825 bed nights per year - and aims to free up hospital beds and staff," Little said.

"Inpatient hospital services will continue to be available for those who need them."

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