23 Jun 2021

Collins dismisses review idea, says Little responsible for slow mental health spend

11:17 am on 23 June 2021

National Party leader Judith Collins says the Health Minister is responsible for the slow roll-out of a $1.9 billion investment in mental health services and that a review into the matter isn't necessary.

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Judith Collins says ministers need to get on with their work. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

A $1.9 billion mental health package was placed at the heart of the government's first Wellbeing Budget in 2019.

It included a new universal frontline service for mental health aiming to place trained mental health workers in doctors' clinics, iwi health providers and other health services, reaching 325,000 people with mild-to-moderate mental health and addiction needs by 2023/2024.

The strategy's slow roll-out is now being attacked by opponents as another failure to deliver on big promises.

After a showdown in Parliament yesterday, Health Minister Andrew Little revealed on Checkpoint just $9 million of a $235 million fund for facilities had been spent since 2019.

Little is considering an independent review to look into the Ministry of Health's slow spend and why implementation is taking so long.

However, Collins dismissed the idea of a review and said it was simply the minister's responsibility to ensure work was being done.

"That's a review essentially of a review. In the meantime, ministers have jobs to do and the first thing they should be doing is making sure in a governance role that the ministry is doing its job," she told Morning Report.

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Health Minister Andrew Little isn't happy with how slow the his department's mental health investment roll-out has been. Photo: Dom Thomas

"So perhaps instead of trying to restructure an entire health Budget, an entire sector, in the middle of a pandemic and when we've got this crisis in mental health, perhaps they could put the effort and the funding into producing on the front-line services for our young people and older people who need help."

She said it was a particularly important aspect of the health service after Covid-19 lockdowns and ensuing economic hardship, but that services were proving unresponsive to people's needs.

"When you're dealing with things like teenagers or even adults who are going through extraordinarily distressing mental health issues I don't know where families are supposed to turn. It seems like people can't get help unless they're suicidal and that's awful."

Collins said the the government had put on hold district health boards initiatives like having mental health nurses at police stations to assess people going into custody after a previous overall health review.

She rejected the suggestion that mental health services were in a bad state because of years of neglect and underfunding by previous National governments, claiming services had been more comprehensive before Labour took power.

This week a 23-year-old woman admitted to Taranaki DHB's overcrowded mental health unit last week told RNZ she felt dehumanised and unsafe when forced to sleep on a mattress on the floor of a lounge because all the bedrooms were full.

The DHB said its 23-bed Te Puna Waiora Unit averaged 99 percent this financial year, meaning at times it is over capacity.

All that the government had managed to do since the mental health investment had been announced was to create five extra beds, Collins said.

"I felt like going to my own bank account and buying some beds, I'm that upset about it," she added.

"We've got the government triumphanting money and they can't spend it and they can't even deliver some beds."

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