PSA: It’s worse than ‘inappropriate’ to ignore the mental health crisis in Canterbury

The Government’s rejection of an urgent request from Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) for additional mental health funding to address increasing demand is short-sighted and shows they aren’t listening to those on the frontline, says the Public Service Association.

CDHB requested urgent additional mental health funding of $7.2 million to address increasing demand in March, but was informed by Ministry of Health Director General Chai Chuah that such a bid would be "inappropriate", according to media reports published yesterday.

"I feel like we’re working in a warzone," says Nancy McShane, a PSA member working in acute inpatient services at CDHB. "Staff safety is at risk and I don’t think the Government realise quite how serious the situation is."

"We’re struggling to provide services and seeing people at their absolute breaking point instead of being resourced to intervene early and avert a bigger crisis."

"It’s hard to care for the most vulnerable people in society when mental health workers are fast becoming a part of that category themselves."

A recent post-Budget analysis of Government health expenditure, prepared by the Council of Trade Unions and the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists, estimates that $2.3 billion is required to restore funding to the health sector to 2009/10 levels. Vote Health’s allocation in the 2017 Budget was at least $215 million behind what’s needed to cover current costs.

"It’s not just foolish to ignore desperate mental health funding pleas from CDHB, but economically unwise too - DHB debt is more onerous than Governmental borrowing, and their bid is about averting a crisis, not simple bottom-line business management," says Erin Polaczuk, PSA national secretary.

"Thinking of our tireless, underpaid and understaffed workers at CDHB, I can’t help but wonder why it’s ‘inappropriate’ to seek Governmental help in mitigating a mental health crisis but somehow smart and pragmatic for the same Minister to drop an extra $5 million into a yacht race this week."

"This is not an economic issue, it’s about priorities - the Government could easily provide funding and be responsive to the crisis in mental health, but that would mean admitting there’s a problem."

"After nine years of continual health sector mismanagement, it’s obvious where that problem arises - and it’s certainly not in DHBs."