29 May 2019

Government accepts 38 of 40 recommendations from mental health inquiry report

12:46 pm on 29 May 2019

The government has released its long-awaited response to the Mental Health and Addiction Inquiry report.

Health Minister David Clark and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at the government's response to the mental health inquiry report.

Health Minister David Clark and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at the government's response to the mental health inquiry report. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

The inquiry recommended sweeping changes, including a suicide reduction target and the establishment of a mental health commission.

Its report went to the government in November last year, which was due to respond in March.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern giving the government's response to the mental health and addiction inquiry.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern giving the government's response to the mental health and addiction inquiry. Photo: RNZ / Māni Dunlop

The government today announced its response to the inquiry's recommendations, with plans for an independent mental health commission - but no suicide reduction target.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the government has "accepted, accepted in principle, or agreed to further consider" of 38 of the 40 recommendations.

"The inquiry into mental health and addiction laid down a challenge to the government and to all New Zealanders.

"We need to transform our thinking and approach to mental health and addiction - and that is what we are committing to today," Ms Ardern said.

"We all know people who have lived with mental health and addiction challenges. This touches every community and every family and we must do better."

Accepted recommendations include:

  • Boosting access to publicly-funded mental health and addiction services for people with mild to moderate needs.
  • Broadening the types of services available.
  • Urgently completing the national suicide prevention strategy
  • Establishing an independent commission to oversee mental health and addiction services
  • Repealing and replacing the Mental Health (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Act 1992.

Setting up new services, training hundreds of staff and building new facilities across the country would take "significant and sustained investment", Ms Ardern said.

"That begins with tomorrow's Wellbeing Budget but will take years."

Health Minister David Clark said the government had ruled out setting up a separate government agency responsible for "social wellbeing" because that was a job for "all of government".

The government also rejected the panel's recommendation of setting a target of a 20 percent reduction in suicide rates by 2030.

Minister of Health David Clark.

Minister of Health David Clark. Photo: RNZ / Māni Dunlop

Dr Clark said the question of a suicide target was considered at length but the experts' views were "mixed".

"We're not prepared to sign up to a suicide target because every life matters, and one death by suicide is one death too many," he said.

The Health Ministry was in the process of finalising the draft suicide prevention strategy and was working on options for an office of suicide prevention.

"There are no quick-fixes for these issues. The drivers of mental health and addiction issues are deep seated and long standing, but as government we are committed to tackling them.

"New Zealanders in distress deserve our support, plain and simple."

The government said it was giving further consideration to the recommendation for stricter rules around selling alcohol.

It also parked the recommendation to replace criminal sanctions for having controlled drugs with fines or treatment and detox services.

"The government has committed to shift to a health-based approach and supporting police discretion in prosecution for possession for personal use; to hold a binding referendum on cannabis legislation; and to increase funding for drug and alcohol responses," it said.

Dr Clark said when the inquiry was announced in January last year that significant change was needed in the sector.

The inquiry was a part of the coalition government's 100 day plan, and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said New Zealand had a "shameful" suicide rate and that nothing was off the table.

Read more about the terms and purpose the inquiry.

The inquiry's major recommendations:

  • Suicide: Target of 20 percent reduction in rates by 2030; implement national prevention strategy; set up suicide prevention office.
  • Establish independent mental health and wellbeing commission.
  • Repeal and replace the Mental Health Act
  • Review of support for whānau with mental health and addiction needs.
  • Tighter rules for selling alcohol.
  • Replace criminal charges with civil response for possession for personal use of controlled drugs.
  • Strengthen voice of people with lived experience in mental health and addiction.
  • Ensure focus on primary care as a "critical foundation" for mental health and addiction.

Who conducted the inquiry

The six-person inquiry team was led by the former Health and Disability Commissioner Ron Paterson.

It spent about 10 months consulting people around the country, holding more than 400 meetings and considering about 5000 submissions.

Other members of the inquiry panel were Dr Barbara Disley, Sir Mason Durie, Dean Rangihuna, Dr Jemaima Tiatia-Seath and Josiah Tualamali'i.

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