National's former health minister Dr Jonathan Coleman says he will be holding the new health minister to account if New Zealand's suicide rate does not drop.
His comments follow a Herald interview in which the new minister, Labour's Dr David Clark, said funding and priority shortfalls under the previous government led to more young people taking their own lives.
The latest suicide statistics showed 606 people had taken their lives in the past year. The rate has remained largely static for the past 10 years.
Labour made mental health a priority in its election campaign, pledging to restore the Mental Health Commission and launch a mental health inquiry.
In the interview Clark criticised the past government's failure to match an increase in people seeking mental health support with funding.
And he spoke of sharing Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's vision of bringing the suicide rate down to zero, although he has previously called a 20 per cent reduction target "sensible".
Coleman declined to be interviewed by the Herald for the story but spoke to Newstalk ZB's Larry Williams this afternoon.
He told Williams he was surprised Clark was personalising the issue.
"Dr Clark is now signalling he is going to take personal responsibility for the suicide rate from this point on with a zero suicide target ... I think he's making a real rod for his own back," he said.
"Of course we want to get the suicide rate down ... it's an extremely tragic and difficult area and I'm just very surprised that he's prepared to talk like this - he's not doing himself any favours."
Coleman defended his record on mental health, saying the National government had put an extra $300 million of funding for mental health in the 2017 budget, with $100 million going into spending on portfolios like social welfare, housing and education that impact on mental health.
Earlier this year Dr Coleman's office rejected a plan to introduce a target of cutting the suicide rate by 20 per cent over 10 years, over fears it would become an "accountability measure" for the government.
But weeks out from the election Coleman said he had changed his mind and was open to the idea.
Asked by Larry Williams if any government was accountable for New Zealand's suicide rate, Coleman said it was "foolish" for the new health minister to say so.
"I genuinely wish Dr Clark well in improving that suicide rate because he's now set the target, he's said he will taking personal responsibility and I will be holding him to account over that," he said.
"I hope he does succeed because this is people's lives - but clearly if he doesn't he will be failing to deliver on one of biggest things he campaigned on."
WHERE TO GET HELP:
If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call police immediately on 111.
OR IF YOU NEED TO TALK TO SOMEONE ELSE:
• LIFELINE: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• SUICIDE CRISIS HELPLINE: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633
• NEED TO TALK? Free call or text 1737 (available 24/7)
• KIDSLINE: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• WHATSUP: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757