A $25 million Government cash injection to build a "fit for purpose" and "culturally appropriate" acute mental health facility in Rotorua has been hailed as a "light at the end of the tunnel".
However, Rotorua MP and member of the opposition Todd McClay says the planned building needs a bigger bed capacity and has questioned the timing of the announcement, two weeks out from a general election.
Health Minister Chris Hipkins announced the funding for a rebuild of Whare Whakaue, Rotorua Hospital's 40-year-old, 14-bed acute mental health and addictions facility at the hospital on Wednesday morning.
The rebuild is expected to expand the capacity to 16 beds with the potential for further expansion to 20.
Hipkins said the new facility would provide more patient-centred and culturally appropriate care.
Having toured the facility earlier that morning, he said he had seen the condition the building was in and it was "simply not good enough".
"It's not culturally appropriate for any culture, frankly. The facilities there, they're dark, they're out of date, they're pretty depressing ... you want to create an environment that will help to lift people up."
Asked if the expansion would be enough to keep up with demand, he said the improved facility would have an effect on demand.
"The better the facilities, the better the care that can be provided, the shorter the stays people may have, and the less likely they are to need to come back.
"Lakes District Health Board is also committed to strengthening its mental health and addiction services through more integrated primary care and community based acute options, and strong linkages with outreach, home and community services.
"This will mean people can get better and earlier access to services, particularly for at-risk groups such as pregnant mothers, youth, Māori and people with alcohol and drug addictions."
He said there had been "historic underinvestment" in mental health facilities and the Labour-led Government had been working in dealing with underlying issues causing mental illness as well as acute-end care.
The health board would also have to contribute $6m to the project.
Asked if this was a big ask for a health board that was, like most across the country, running a deficit, Hipkins said the Government had been increasing funding for district health boards and working closely with them towards a "path to financial sustainability".
He said the rebuild of Whare Whakaue was a "real opportunity … to do something that's quite transformational".
Construction of the new facility was likely to start in the second half of next year and was expected to take about two years to complete.
Health board chairman Dr Jim Mather said there was an "absolute need" for the facility and it was "incredibly exciting".
He said the new building would be built where the current boardroom was, which was on the opposite side of the hospital site to the current building.
Health board mental health and addictions service manager Michael Bland said the state of the current building was "horrendous" and wasn't fit for purpose.
"We've got a light at the end of the tunnel."
He said he was "less worried about volume" because demand was unpredictable, and the number of beds in the facility was not so important as the level of care people received when occupying them.
"It's a real positive day."
Mauri Ora facility governance group Ngāti Whakaue representative Kingi Biddle said the new building was "going to be a really good thing" for Māori and would be based around tikanga Māori.
"The goal is to create a place to feel safe."
He said consultation and inclusion of mana whenua had not been "just lip service".
"This is just one part of the whole. It's a good start."
Rotorua MP Todd McClay told the Rotorua Daily Post there was a "huge need" for mental health services in the electorate and it was growing "before Covid".
"Local families who struggle with mental health issues with loved ones will be happy that the Government has committed some money, however, it should have been announced sooner than two weeks before an election."
He said a new facility would need to be "future-proofed" and that would mean "many more additional bed spaces".
"The district health board is already running a growing deficit. The doctors and nurses work very hard and have my absolute respect but even before the Covid lockdown, local people were waiting longer for their operations … I fear these delays will only get worse."
He said if National was elected to Government it would consider continuing the funding commitment, but he would "want to go and have a really close look at it", that it wouldn't put undue pressure on the health board.
He said National would also investigate making the facility larger.
"I don't believe it is enough for the mental health challenges we face in our community."
He said job losses in the current recession would mean mental health would become a "greater challenge".