A release of official documents confirms the Government does not consider further research into farmer suicide to be a high priority, National's Associate Health spokesman and Whangarei MP Dr Shane Reti says.

But a spokesman for the Minister of Health said that was not the case.

"Documents relating to a funding application for Rural Health Alliance Aotearoa NZ show how officials successfully persuaded the Minister of Health David Clark and the Minister for Primary Industries Damien O'Connor that further investment into farm-related suicide research is not a priority at this stage," he says.

"This astounding admission continues the Government's dismissive attitude towards rural mental health — further compounded by the refusal to commit to a school of rural health.


"A statement like this in the context of the current Mycoplasma bovis incursion defies belief. That the Government would pull funding and deprioritise farmer suicide research at this time is shocking.

"It's all very well to hold a general inquiry into mental health, but the rural community has specific needs now — and the Rural Health Alliance was geared up to deliver to those needs."

A spokesman for Health Minister Dr David Clark said the documents released to Reti dealt with an application for $600,000 in new funding, of which, only $40,000 directly related to mental health work.

"The funding request was declined so Dr Reti's claim it was 'pulled' is factually incorrect," he said.

"The organisation had received Ministry of Health funding of $250,000 a year for the last three years for rural mental health initiatives.

"Unfortunately the alliance has declined to accept the same amount to continue this work for the 12 months beginning July 1."

"That the Government would pull funding and deprioritise farmer suicide research at this time is shocking."


In response to this decision, Reti says, former Dairy Woman of the Year and Taranaki-King Country MP Barbara Kuriger has launched a petition to save rural healthcare services.

"Ask the public what is more important — $1 billion to go towards foreign affairs and diplomats or research into farmer suicide. I'm pretty certain the Government will know the answer so I urge it to do the right thing and step up and make rural mental health a priority during this critical time."

Dr Reti says increased mental health support in rural regions was a key focus for the previous National Government.

"Since 2015 we committed over $1.5 million specifically for Rural Mental Wellness," he says. "The Rural Mental Wellness initiative was administered by RHAANZ and Rural Support Trusts.

This funding included over 70 workshops for rural health professionals treating people at risk of suicide, the appointment and continued support of the rural clinical champions and medical director which helped to improve referral pathways, as well as provide support aimed at younger rural workers."

Reti says part of the Transforming the Dairy Value Chain project co-funded by industry and Government enabled $3 million to be used to develop support networks to reduce fatigue and stress on farms.

"As a result of this, over 400 rural professionals have been trained in stress and mental health awareness and response, and over 100 physical and mental health assessments have been delivered throughout New Zealand."

National's $100m social investment package for mental health, he says, was the start of a major programme of work to prevent and respond to mental disorders "and would have been making a difference right now".

"Instead, this Government has kicked the can down the road by engaging a review that the mental health commissioner has said isn't needed."

Clark's spokesman said the Government was committed to a wide-ranging review of mental health services "after the previous government ignored numerous pleas for help".

The review would include rural New Zealand's needs, he said.