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Health minister ‘concerned’ as mental health annual reports are two years behind normal schedule

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An annual monitoring report on mental health services is two years behind its normal schedule, with no report on the Labour Government’s time in office yet delivered.

Health Minister Andrew Little says he is “concerned” about the matter and is seeking more information.

National Party mental health spokesman Matt Doocey said this was because the Government didn’t want to show targets that it wasn’t meeting.

But the ministry said the report was late because of a shift to more regular monitoring, and Covid-19.

The report shows how many people access mental health and addiction services across the country and provides data on wait times, use of seclusion rooms, and other indicators.

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The Office of the Director of Mental Health and Addiction Services had released these annual reports since 2005, usually with a year or less lag time – until the Labour-led Government was elected in 2017, promising serious action on mental health.

Health Minister Andrew Little said he was concerned about the matter.

Ross Giblin

Health Minister Andrew Little said he was concerned about the matter.

Despite that promise, only a single report has been released since the election – the report for the 2017 year, which was released in early 2019.

The reports for 2018 and 2019 remain unreleased.

Little told Stuff he could see no good reason the reports would be so out of date and he was seeking more information.

A seclusion unit at Taranaki Hospital's Te Puna Waiora mental health unit. The use of seclusion is covered in the annual report.

Supplied

A seclusion unit at Taranaki Hospital’s Te Puna Waiora mental health unit. The use of seclusion is covered in the annual report.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health said the lateness was due to a variety of factors, including Covid-19 and the establishment of a Mental Health and Addiction Directorate.

Covid-19 did not become an issue until early 2020 however, when the report for 2018 would have already been released under the usual schedule for the previous decade.

Doocey said that the public deserved to know if the Government’s new investment in mental health was working.

“They don’t want targets because they don’t want to be held to account for not meeting them,” Doocey said.

National's Matt Doocey believes the Government didn’t want to show targets that it wasn’t meeting.

Chris McKeen/Stuff

National’s Matt Doocey believes the Government didn’t want to show targets that it wasn’t meeting.

“It’s hugely concerning, because these reports are a way of benchmarking the investment put into mental health and the results of those investments.”

He pointed to a target from the Government’s 2018 Mental Health and Addictions Inquiry to increase access to mental health services to up to 20 per cent of the population, up from about 3 per cent in 2017.

“We need reports like this to measure how well we are going opening up access to many New Zealanders who need it.”

The Ministry of Health spokesperson said some of the information was now being provided in other ways but said the annual reports for 2018 and 2019 would still be released by March.

“Some of the information that was previously provided in the Office of the Director of Mental Health and Addiction Services Annual Report is now being provided in a more timely way and with a broader lens across the sector via other reports and information,” the spokesperson said.

“We are also placing a significant amount of this information online so that in future it is easier to provide more regular updates rather than only releasing information once a year. However, implementing these changes has taken longer than anticipated.”

“The publication of the 2018 Annual Report was delayed due to the response to the Covid-19 pandemic taking priority, and accordingly, the 2019 Annual Report has also been delayed.”

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