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New Zealand’s mental health system is in crisis

Published: Wed 31 May 2017 03:03 PM
Auditor-General’s report provides more evidence that New Zealand’s mental health system is in crisis
Source: PSA
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The Auditor-General’s new report on discharge planning for mental health patients shows more than ever that the system is in crisis. The PSA says it strengthens calls for a wide-ranging national inquiry into the delivery of mental health services.
"This report provides some alarming insights into the slow decay of the mental health system under this Government, particularly in terms of supporting severely vulnerable patients to re-enter their communities after time in DHB inpatient units," says Erin Polaczuk, PSA national secretary.
The report by Greg Schollum, Deputy Controller and Auditor-General, diagnoses several acute ailments in the system - a lack of planning and liaison between DHBs and community services, limited bed numbers available in inpatient units, and rushed discharges into the community because DHBs cannot cope with growing demand. The PSA would argue that these problems are largely due to cumulative underfunding of the health system.
"People are often being hustled back into the community as quickly as possible because their beds are required by others with more severe needs. In many cases, there’s no real plan for the next steps - their accommodation in the community, their ongoing mental health needs, and how to follow up with them after," says Ms Polaczuk.
"This isn’t just about people waiting a long time for appointments with counsellors after their discharge, for example. The consequences of hurried re-entry into the community without adequate planning is severe - it’s more readmissions, it’s worsening mental health issues, and it’s suicide."
"This is about our underfunded health system being unable to support many of the most vulnerable patients in the country to get better."
The PSA welcomes many of the Auditor-General’s recommendations to the Ministry of Health, and believes that this voice adds to a chorus of concerned patients, workers and practitioners, who have been urgently calling for a full, independent, nationwide inquiry into the delivery of mental health services for some time. Ms Polaczuk believes that underfunding plays a much more significant role than the Auditor-General is able to identify.
"It’s clear that empty rhetoric and the hollow promises of prioritisation by this Government aren’t enough," says Ms Polaczuk.
"Staff are struggling with massive pressure, and patients aren’t getting the services they need in anything like a timely fashion. The recent Budget, for all its fanfare, will do nothing to solve these problems - they’re policy promises for PR purposes, and we need a full inquiry to identify what’s truly needed to fix a system in crisis."
ENDS

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