The Government appears to be quietly backing away from increasing access to mental health and addiction services to its own inquiry’s suggested target, National’s Mental Health spokesperson Matt Doocey says.
“The Government’s Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction highlighted increasing access to mental health services from three per cent to 20 per cent over five years as an indicative target and an underpinning rationale, which is clearly outlined on page 12 of the report in the Executive Summary.
“Instead, Health Minister David Clark’s obfuscation around answers in the House last week and today suggests he is dampening down expectations for New Zealanders who are seeking access to these services in their times of need.
“Dr Clark talked a big game on mental health in Opposition, but so far we’re yet to see any real progress as the Government’s response to their mental health inquiry has been delayed twice since receiving the recommendations in December last year.
“In the Government’s year of delivery, it’s concerning that a Government which promised so much in mental health is softening hopes as the Budget draws near.
“This will be massively disappointing for the 2000 New Zealanders who attended meetings to share their personal stories and the over 5000 people who made submissions.”
Now the report of the inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction has been released the Government needs to prioritise the sector and provide increased support for the mental health of New Zealanders, National’s Mental Health spokesperson Matt Doocey says.
“The inquiry recommends a cross-government approach to mental health, increases in access and a focus on more prevention and early intervention. These were all provided for in our $100 million fund which should have been supporting New Zealanders’ mental health for almost a year.
“Unfortunately, our initiatives which included e-therapy, telehealth, increased mental health provision in schools, and a co-response pilot to improve the response to mental health incidents were scrapped by this Government whose report now supports them.
“The report also recommends a cross-party working group on mental health. Yet when National reached out to create a cross-party working group on mental health earlier this year the opportunity was rejected by all Government parties.
“The Government has set back progress by at least a year and a half, and in the meantime, the mental health of New Zealanders is getting worse, not better. After an entire year, this report is finally done. Now is the time for the Health Minister to take some action.
“We don’t think that New Zealanders should have to wait till March next year to hear about the Government’s response to this report – one which would take a further six months to fund and implement.
“With the Government periodically doling out a $3 billion regional slush fund surely it can prioritise funding to support the mental health of New Zealanders now.”
“After claiming that mental health services were in crisis under National, the Government has stripped funding set aside for the sector and wasted time waiting for its inquiry to report back. The Minister has also chosen not to release the report until the end of the year and is refusing to respond until March 2019.
“In the time that the inquiry has been running, the Government could have made meaningful changes by increasing access to services for people in need. Instead, they continue to kick the can down the road by outsourcing for ideas with an unnecessary inquiry.
“The then opposition parties made mental health a major election issue but now in Government have left the public without any improvements to the system or increased access. It will be halfway through the Parliamentary term before any decisions are made and even longer until new policies are rolled out and there is any real change.
“The Government axed 17 important initiatives that would have increased access to services, improved our responses and provided more wraparound support to instead prioritise $2.8 billion for tertiary students and $3 billion for Shane Jones’ slush fund. This is just wrong.
“I am calling on the Minister to respond to the mental health sector’s call for the release of the report as soon as possible given the amount of public interest in this area. The Inquiry has cost Kiwis $6.5 million and we all deserve to know what the Inquiry Panel has found and recommended to the Government.
“The Minister has already denied an opportunity to pursue meaningful cross-party change and he needs to work collaboratively to make sure we find long-term solutions which will improve the well-being of all New Zealanders. Hiding the report away until Christmas will not achieve that.
“It’s time to get on with it. The Government promised to take action, and they need to follow through on that promise sooner rather than later.”
The Government needs to listen to the safety concerns of North Canterbury residents following yet another crash on State Highway 1 in Woodend, Waimakariri MP Matt Doocey says.
“The Belfast to Pegasus motorway extension and Woodend Bypass was promised by National last year as part of the second generation of Roads of National Significance following the success of the Christchurch motorway projects, which are delivering safer journeys and shorter travel times.
“North Canterbury’s strong residential and industrial growth following the earthquakes has put further pressure on State Highway 1 between Belfast and Pegasus Town when it was already at breaking point.
“National’s announcement last year of a continuous four-lane highway with traffic from both directions separated and a Bypass at Woodend had been received by residents with relief.
“The Waimakariri community was devastated when the project was left out of the New Zealand Transport Agency’s 10-year plan following the coalition Government’s shift in focus onto Transport Minister Phil Twyford’s pet tram project in Auckland.
“Recently residents were shaken by a crash when a fuel tanker and truck collided at Woodend. Heavy vehicles, including freight, are travelling through Woodend, past the school and residents’ houses. Residents are frankly too scared to try cross over State Highway 1.
“We cannot wait any longer for a commitment to this important roading project.
“The Government needs to stop diverting billions of dollars from regional New Zealand. National had a carefully balanced plan which prioritised our regions and supported our cities.
“Residents have spoken out time and time again and have no appetite to be going through yet another round of safety consultations. How much more do they have to say when accidents like these are making headlines all the time?”
It is disappointing that the Health Minister has rejected calls for a cross-party working group to depoliticise mental health, and is continuing to do nothing while he waits for his working group to report back, National’s spokesperson for Mental Health Matt Doocey says.
“New Zealanders want to see mental health depoliticised and they want to see their MPs work collaboratively. It’s unfortunate that the Minister has rejected the opportunity to do this at this time, especially given the request for cross-party work had no deadline.
“There is no reason for the Minister to put off improvements to mental health services and strip funding away from the sector and by doing so it shows that he is out of touch with the public.
“The Health Minister needs to front up to the New Zealanders who he promised action but now in Government has cancelled funding, wasted time and denied an opportunity to pursue meaningful cross-party change.
“By the time the Minister’s inquiry reports back later this month, it would take at minimum another few months to finalise any initiatives and funding for these would likely be stalled till at least Budget 2019. This could see any positive change held up for almost two years.
“This is all for an inquiry that New Zealand’s own mental health commissioner Kevin Allan said last year was not needed. He said action was needed immediately but this Minister has stripped $100 million that was planned specifically for 17 mental health initiatives that would have been helping to save lives now.
“Every week I meet people and organisations who tell me that they want political parties in Parliament to work together on mental health to break down the barriers to progress and find policy solutions that last longer than the three year political cycle.
“I will keep working hard to achieve cross-party work in mental health and to encourage the Minister to act now because it’s the right thing to do to improve mental health in New Zealand.”
National is not prepared to let the Government park the mental health needs of Kiwis while it holds an inquiry, and has offered to work together to improve New Zealand’s mental health services both immediately and longer term, Mental Health spokesperson Matt Doocey says.
“Mental health is one of our most challenging social issues and affects thousands of New Zealanders every day.
"These people need help now and National refuses to sit by while the Government delays that help with an inquiry while offering no new solutions in the meantime and scrapping vital mental health initiatives, like the pilot that would’ve seen mental health nurses attending mental health incidents alongside police and paramedics.
“That’s why I’ve written to all parties in Parliament offering to establish a cross-party group to focus on improving New Zealand’s mental health services and outcomes. This would include immediately delivering better services where we can and improving the whole system in the longer term.
“At the same time we strongly urge the Government to reintroduce the 17 mental health initiatives outlined as part of our $100 million mental health package announced last year after being developed alongside mental health experts.
“These would make a real and immediate difference and the Government’s decision to scrap them in favour of an inquiry means New Zealanders are missing out on vital services which should be being delivered now.
“It’s not too late for parties to work together in the best interests of New Zealanders struggling with mental illness. In line with global trends, demand for mental health services in New Zealand is continuing to increase and people need help now as well as better long-term solutions.
“The climate change cross-party group is an example of how this approach can help break down barriers to progress and result in faster action, and we want to see the same happen in mental health.
“It won’t be easy and of course there will be debate about the best solutions, but addressing mental health in New Zealand is too important not to give this a real go.”
Opposition Leader Simon Bridges has announced the election by Caucus of National’s three Whips, with Barbara Kuriger today elected Senior Whip, Matt Doocey Junior Whip and Tim van de Molen Third Whip.
“These three MPs have an important role to play in helping ensure the efforts of all 56 National MPs are focused on holding this Government to account and coming up with the plans and policies to take New Zealand forward.
“They have a big job. The National Party caucus is Parliament’s largest and it is brimming with energy and enthusiasm and a willingness to work in the best interests of New Zealand.
“It must also be disciplined and focused and represent our communities effectively.
“Ensuring that strength and talent is taking New Zealand forward is my focus as Leader and I am delighted to have these three strong MPs elected to play an important role in that.
“Our three Whips will help ensure the National Party earns the trust of New Zealanders and the right to govern in their interests in 2020.”
With the Health Minister admitting in Parliament this week that there is $100 million set aside by the previous government for mental health he needs to confirm whether he will take action on the 17 mental health initiatives identified by the previous government, National Party Mental Health Spokesperson Matt Doocey says.
“The 17 initiatives which were part of the $100 million mental health package announced last year should already be providing significant support to vulnerable New Zealanders in regions from Northland to Southland but they are now being parked while the Government buys time with an inquiry,” Mr Doocey says.
“The initiatives were backed by the Government’s Chief Science Advisors and were aimed at expanding primary and community mental health and addiction care, providing wraparound services for people experiencing mental health crises, improving the response to events requiring mental health intervention and beginning to shift our focus towards prevention, early intervention and resilience-building.
“These initiatives would have been making a real difference to peoples’ lives and there is no good reason why they aren’t already.
“A multi-agency co-response for people who rang 111 for events requiring mental health intervention was to be piloted through this fund. This was to respond to the known stress on police and emergency services and would deploy staff from police, ambulance, and mental health services together, as a priority emergency response.
“The Tu Kotahi programme was planned to be piloted by the previous Government and was specifically designed by a Northland local to support school children in Northland and across the country with their mental health and wellbeing, helping them build their resilience and encouraging those who needed help to reach out.
“But now that it is unlikely that we will see any action on mental health for 9 - 12 months these planned initiatives are facing uncertainty and vulnerable New Zealanders are missing out. This inaction is in favour of an inquiry that even the independent Mental Health Commissioner, Kevin Allan, has admitted is unnecessary.
“The inquiry will cost time and money when, as was planned by the previous Government, action needs to be taken now. The work has already been done for the Government but it refuses to pick up these much-needed initiatives.
“New Zealanders were expecting to see action from National’s $100 million mental health package and now all they see is a Government who is putting off the issue.”
The Government has parked $100 million committed to 17 well-thought through initiatives that should be improving lives, while it kicks the can down the road by refusing to act alongside its mental health inquiry, National’s spokesperson for Mental Health Matt Doocey says.
“The Prime Minister has claimed that the $100 million allocated through Budget 2017 for 17 new mental health initiatives doesn’t exist. The fact is it that does and that the initiatives should already be making a real difference to the lives of vulnerable New Zealanders.
“Today in the House Dr Clark was unable to say where the money for the initiatives has gone and what ones will be cancelled. Instead, this money is either sitting idle or has been reallocated – either way, it’s not good enough.
“From expanding and enhancing primary and community mental health and addiction services to further improving the support for people experiencing acute and emergency mental health needs, further support was being made available.
“Health Minister David Clark says some of the initiatives may be progressed but ‘those that were politically expedient we will leave by the wayside’.
“That’s an appalling statement. These projects were identified in concert with Government agencies, the Chief Science Advisor, and the sector as areas we could make a real difference to the lives of people with mental health issues, and they should be underway.
“So far the Government has tried and failed to justify why this money won’t be invested in improving lives while it stalls any real work and carries out yet another inquiry.
“We know what the issues are, we have identified at least some of the solutions and we should be putting them in place. Instead, this Government has parked them while it catches up itself, re-learns the lessons we already understand and tries to stall the spending.
“The Government needs to explain to vulnerable New Zealanders why it is refusing to offer more immediate support while it claims the answers will take another 10 months to find.”
The pending announcement of what’s likely to be a lengthy inquiry into the state of mental health services in New Zealand will delay action for those who need help now, National’s spokesperson for Mental Health Matt Doocey says.
“Everyone agrees that we need to respond to the growing demand for mental health services in New Zealand as well as increasing psychological and emotional resilience of individuals, families and communities, but a prolonged inquiry on its own is not going to help those who need dedicated services right now.
“A Government can't guarantee that an inquiry will fix anything. The risk is that we wait 18-24 months to learn services can be improved while, in the meantime, there are people who need the help now.
“The National government put in an extra $100 million to fund services based on evidence of what would have the most impact for people suffering from mental health issues.
“We took a Social Investment approach to design and fund 17 new initiatives aimed at helping New Zealanders suffering from mental health issues, as well as focusing on improving services and earlier intervention.
“This fund was to be part of a $224 million boost to mental health services we announced in last year’s Budget.
“The Government is playing for time. Because of the big-ticket items it has already committed to funding, it is running out of cash. By the time it runs its inquiry, received the recommendations, had officials work on the recommendations, designed some policy, it’ll be a couple of years before anything is implemented.
“The Minister of Health has been pretty clear he intends to set targets around suicide prevention and to meet them.
“I look forward to him identifying the issues and outlining his plan to deal with them – but I don’t think a lengthy inquiry will be acceptable to the public – the Government should pick up the working programmes we had developed and just get on with it.,” Mr Doocey says.