Fears Canterbury mental health services may be slashed amid budget cutbacks

The Canterbury region has seen an overwhelming spike in demand for mental health services since the February 2011 earthquake which shattered Christchurch. Photo / Glen Howey
The Canterbury region has seen an overwhelming spike in demand for mental health services since the February 2011 earthquake which shattered Christchurch. Photo / Glen Howey

A Canterbury District Health Board member is claiming that key services will have to be cut if the Ministry of Health doesn't take its head out of the sand.

Mental health services in Canterbury, already under severe strain, could be slashed as a result of Government demands for wide cutbacks of $163 million from the national health budget.

The Canterbury region has seen an overwhelming spike in demand for mental health services since the February 2011 earthquake which shattered Christchurch. The number of people presenting at the emergency department with mental health-related issues has doubled in the last three years and suicide-related call-outs have increased by 55 per cent since 2011.

Sixty per cent more children, and 40 per cent more adults are in need of mental health support.

Funding for psychological services from the Ministry of Social Development was recently cut from $1.6 million to $200,000, while trauma counselling was halved to a little more than $400,000 over the last year.

CDHB Board member Jo Kane, speaking exclusively to Newstalk ZB's Chris Lynch, is furious about the Government's proposal to cut funding despite clear increases in demand.

"It's our children in trouble," Kane said. "We've got 88 schools which have bought into the Prime Minister's mental health project, and all the anxiety, the disruption, the bed-wetting, the anger is manifesting itself.

"If we have to find the money out of existing budgets, that will mean we have to cut services."

Kane said senior management staff are sick and tired of having discussions which don't go anywhere with the Ministry of Health.

"[The Government] doesn't believe we have a problem," Kane said.

"They are spending time in this combative behaviour of trying to put up figures and to show what is actually happening in Canterbury, only for Wellington to go 'Hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil'."

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman, also speaking to Newstalk ZB's Chris Lynch, disputed any claim that there would be a cut in specific funding, but insisted that all the CDHB needed to do is ask for more money.

"If they need more specific resources, let's work together to see what those are, but you know, that's my commitment," Coleman said.

CDHB chief executive David Meates yesterday said that the CDHB hadn't decided what services would be cut, but he was certain they couldn't keep providing what they currently do if the Government went through with its funding proposal.

The controversy comes just days after a 5.7 magnitude aftershock rocked Christchurch, bringing down cliff faces and prompting a surge in EQC claims. One school councillor said the latest quake "had real potential to retrigger trauma through pupils right throughout Canterbury".

- NZ Herald

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