National inquiry needed as mental health left out of government's future focus

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New Zealand’s mental health system could be on the verge of collapse, the Public Service Association says - and yet the government’s new health strategy all but ignores it.

Health minister Jonathan Coleman has today launched the New Zealand Health Strategy and PSA National Secretary Erin Polaczuk notes that there is no focus on mental health services.

"Given the projection by the Ministry that demand for mental health and addiction services will double by 2020, this oversight seems remarkable.

"It is particularly concerning for Canterbury, where DHB-based and community services are now at breaking point.

"Dr John Crawshaw’s report into Waikato DHB’s services highlighted major shortcomings, particularly involving high caseloads, inadequate management and low staff morale.

"Our members tell us this is happening across the country as well.

"We’ve already seen the tragic consequences of a struggling system, where vulnerable people slip through the cracks caused by underfunding.

"So for Dr Coleman not to address this urgently is a big worry."

Green Party MP Kevin Hague has called for an urgent independent inquiry into mental health and addiction services, and the PSA agrees this must be a top priority.

The inquiry should cover not only DHBs but services provided by community health groups and NGOs, which are also struggling to cope with increases in demand.

"This government’s cut $1.7 billion from the health budget, and this report is yet more evidence that staff and patients are bearing the brunt of those cuts," Ms Polaczuk says.