24 Sep 2021

Most 2019 Budget mental health intiatives on track - review

5:03 pm on 24 September 2021

A review of the government's $1.9 billion Mental Health and Addiction package has found it is making strong progress.

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Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

The report is the first out of the government's Implementation Unit, which sits within the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, and was set up to monitor the government's delivery of a small number of critical projects.

Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson said a stocktake of the $1.9 billion mental health package found strong progress had been made since its announcement.

"The report notes most initiatives funded in the Budget 2019 package are on track to deliver what is expected by 2023/24," Robertson said.

"For example, there are more than 200 GP sites offering Integrated Primary Mental Health and Addiction Services seeing more than 11,000 people per month and providing coverage for an enrolled population of 1.5 million people."

However, the National Party said the government review of its own delivery of the package was "a sham".

National Party mental health spokesperson Matt Doocey said the fact the government was reviewing its own "poor performance on mental health is an absolute sham".

"To come out today and say they are making strong progress and mental health initiatives are on track is a kick in the guts to many New Zealanders who are stuck in waiting lists."

The report included how there are now more than 200 GP practices with specialist mental health staff on-site.

Doocey said this cannot be considered a success, given 200 clinics accounts for only 15 per cent of the total number in the country.

But Health Minister Andrew Little said National had got its calculations wrong.

"Yeah, Matt's not really good with numbers. It's not the proportion of GP practises, it's the proportion of the enrolled patient population and that's roughly 1.4 million I think."

By the time the roll out is complete, 3.7 million people will have a mental health specialist at their GP clinic, Little said.

Meanwhile, Robertson said the review was positive. The stocktake had also identified areas of improvement for each ministry that got a share of the money; the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Corrections.

The unit found the Ministry of Health had made good progress on introducing Integrated Primary Mental Health and Addiction Services to GP practices, boosted the Telehealth capacity and better staffed emergency departments to improve support for people experiencing mental health crisis.

However, identified areas of improvement including tailoring services for Māori and Pacific people, recruiting a suitably-qualified workforce, more detailed planning of how initiatives will be delivered on by the end of the rollout, and establishing programme governance to focus efforts on output delivery over reporting activities.

On reviewing the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development, the unit found it had delivered 1000 more transitional housing places and 648 of the additional 1044 Housing First places, with the remainder to be done by June 2023.

It had no specific recommendations for change and improvements for this ministry but noted the governance recommendation for the Ministry of Health would cover its work as well.

The unit found Corrections had continued to deliver mental health programmes that would otherwise have been stopped and introduced three new mental health teams at different prisons.

On improvements to be made, it found reporting could be better, with specific reference to the progress on its promise to deliver mental health services to 2310 extra people as a result of funding in Budget 2019.

Minister of Health Andrew Little, who earlier this week announced a 10-year roadmap 'Kia Manawanui' to improve mental health outcomes in New Zealand, said the Implementation Unit's report had been helpful.

"The report identifies there is more to do in the mental health infrastructure space. Although the funding has been provided, the ministry has struggled to achieve as much as we would have liked them to," Little said.

"Since receiving the report, the ministry has written a clear plan for mental health infrastructure. Simple improvements have been made immediately. For example, ministers have recently agreed that the ministry is able to provide DHBs with funding for planning, design and consenting of infrastructure projects so that they can be fast-tracked."

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