Labour questions mental health support as open letter presented to Parliament

Labour leader Andrew Little asked why funding for mental health services had risen far more slowly than demand for services that rocketed by 60 per cent under National. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Labour leader Andrew Little asked why funding for mental health services had risen far more slowly than demand for services that rocketed by 60 per cent under National. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Labour leader Andrew Little has gone on the attack over mental health services on the same day an open letter calling for action was presented to Parliament.

Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne received the letter, signed by 12,800 people, from lobby group Action Station.

The letter was signed by a number of well-known New Zealanders, including film director Taika Waititi, and called on the Government to implement the four recommendations in the "People's Mental Health Report".

Released last month by Action Station, the report included the stories of 500 people, with just 7 per cent reporting positive experiences with the health system. Problems highlighted in the report include people waiting too long to access services and treatment, or being declined for treatment.

In question time, Little asked Prime Minister Bill English why funding for mental health services had risen far more slowly than demand that had seen the number of people needing services rocket by 60 per cent under National.

Little also read out comments from a mental health nurse about the extra hours people in the profession were working to cope with under-staffing, and from a person who said they couldn't get treatment unless they were on "the verge of suicide".

English said ensuring people got the support they needed was a priority for the Government, "but there is always more to do".

The number of people needing secondary mental health and addiction services had increased substantially, the Prime Minister said.

"There is more funding for acute services and for prevention to try and prevent people getting into the situation where they need acute services."

Earlier, Health Minister Dr Jonathan Coleman said the people behind Action Station were "very left-wing, anti-Government protesters".

English last week announced this month's Budget will include a $321m social investment spending package. And Coleman has confirmed the May 25 Budget will include new funding for mental health and addiction services as part of the social investment package.

However, he stressed most work will operate within existing baselines.

Little this month told a meeting in Rotorua that addressing mental health services would be a priority for Labour.

"Everywhere I go people tell me stories of someone who's been let down by mental health services which are stretched to breaking point."

- NZ Herald

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