23 Nov 2022

Mental health system struggling to keep ahead of demand for acute services - Little

5:12 pm on 23 November 2022
Medical equipment

There were reportedly 608 beds for acute mental health patients in 2017 and are still in 2022. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

The number of acute beds for mental health patients has not increased over the last five years.

There were reportedly 608 beds for acute mental health patients in 2017 and are still in 2022.

Minister of Health Andrew Little told Morning Report new frontline roles for those with mild to moderate health needs meant those getting help would be less likely to need acute services down the track.

There were about 1200 new frontline roles in GP clinics, kaupapa Māori clinics and youth clinics etc, providing mental health services for those with mild to moderate needs, Little said.

About 18,000 people used these services in September, he said.

People getting help at the point they have mild to moderate mental health needs means they have a better chance of not needing more acute services, he said.

"That stuff is making a difference."

The system has struggled to keep ahead of the demand for acute services, he said.

"That's why we put an additional $100 million into those services in this year's Budget."

Labour MP Andrew Little

Health Minister Andrew Little says an additional $100 million has been put into acute services. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

New Zealand was competing international for mental health specialists like psychiatrists and clinical psychologists and while more money was being put into training, it would take time to come into effect, he said.

Little did not have a figure of how big the shortage was but said "we're down quite a few".

One of the issues was there wasn't a suitable place for people to step down into once they no longer need to be in hospital, he said.

In the 2019 Wellbeing Budget, $2.2 billion was set aside for mental health investment, including $235 million for facilities

There were 16 construction projects, five funded by the 2019 budget "which have frankly been tardy in getting off the ground", Little said.

"I think it illustrates what is one of the worst parts of the DHB system, that decisions made at a national level struggle to get implemented."

Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission director of Mental Health and Addiction Leadership, Tanya Maloney, said the Wellbeing budget was not enough to respond to the broader spectrum of needs.

"The important thing is making sure the money is going to the right places."

The Wellbeing Budget was an investment in to mental health and was predominantly in community and services that respond to people's needs quite early on in their distress or illness, she said.

About $1.1 billion of this went into primary care, mental health in schools, addiction and specialist services, she said.

"If we look back at the He Ara Oranga report (2018), what people and communities told the government and told the people of Aotearoa is that they want responses, services and options in the community first and foremost.

"Now we think there also needs to be investments at the other end of the system and options, services for people when they're acutely unwell," she said.

"Acute beds are not always the appropriate solution to acute distress and acute care issues. We understand that there's been investment into the infrastructure and we're really clear that some of the facilities, the acute buildings are not fit for purpose anymore and do need upgrading."

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