Green Party demands review into mental health services

Green Party health spokesman Kevin Hague said, "Families around the country need to know that mental health services are able to do their job." Photo / Fiona Goodall
Green Party health spokesman Kevin Hague said, "Families around the country need to know that mental health services are able to do their job." Photo / Fiona Goodall

The Green Party is demanding further investigation of mental health services in the wake of what it calls a "damning review" of the Waikato District Health Board's psychiatric care.

Green Party health spokesman Kevin Hague said today, "Mental health services in DHBs are under-resourced and the minister's slow erosion of budgets has stretched services past breaking point. Families around the country need to know that mental health services are able to do their job."

He says the Director of Mental Health, Dr John Crawshaw, was compelled to investigate Waikato's services after incidents, including the death of Nicky Stevens, who was found dead in the Waikato River in March, after being released from the Henry Rongomau Bennett Centre at Waikato Hospital.

"The minister needs to launch an urgent nationwide inquiry into mental health services following systemic failures that the Crawshaw report confirmed.

"Factors such as cost cutting across the health system, understaffing, high levels of change within the sector, and increased demand are national issues, and demand a nationwide response.

"Just last week, Northland's mental health services were also reviewed and found wanting.

"Nicky's death is one of a number of preventable deaths from around the country while in DHB care and there are increasing accounts of inadequately resourced and poor quality mental health services failing to meet community needs.

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman said following Friday's release of the Crawshaw report that the Government had increased mental health and addiction services funding from $1.1 billion in 2008/9 to more than $1.4 billion for 2015/16.

Dr Crawshaw's report highlighted short-staffing and staff burn-out at Waikato's mental health services. The inspection was prompted by the suicide of one patient, the unplanned departures of three, and the hiring of a foreign doctor as a psychiatrist who now faces charges related to identity fraud.

The report said the DHB needed to focus on immediate staffing relief in critical areas to reduce "staff burn-out and churn, fill vacancies and improve staff retention".

The ministry says many of the report's recommendations "support changes already planned by the DHB".

Mr Stevens' father, Dave McPherson, told Newstalk ZB that mental health services across the country were broken, and only a change in culture could prevent further deaths.

He believed the inspection white-washed problems at the Waikato DHB and other district health boards around the country.

"Around the country people are waiting up to five or six years for answers about what happened to their family members ... it's not good enough," he said.

Mr MacPherson said the inspection overlooked serious underlying issues at the DHB, where "families like ours and others are excluded from being involved in the treatment, where patients are allowed to wander around outside unsupervised".

At Northland DHB, the external review found Whangarei Hospital's Tumanako Inpatient Unit is crisis-driven, practises a medication-driven model of care and staff feel overworked, undervalued and unsafe.

DHB chief executive Nick Chamberlain said, "We think the review should be viewed in a positive light and we were not surprised by the number of recommendations or the findings, many of which were already well known and many of the solutions and recommendations were already planned, and some came directly from previous planning sessions."

Meanwhile, a protest is underway at Dunedin's Octagon, over cuts to mental health care.

The group Stop the Cuts to Southern Mental Health says there's been a shift from hospital-based care to community based care, and that's important.

Spokeswoman Scout Barbour-Evans said there needs to be enough support for the community to cope.

She said a lack of funding means people are only getting help when they're in an absolute crisis - instead of preventative care.

Ms Barbour-Evans said mental health cuts are another layer of oppression to people who have fought for a voice for years.

- NZ Herald

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