Monday, March 29, 2010

New Zealand advocates worry that mental health budget cuts will lead to more suicides

From The Dominion Post in New Zealand:

Mental health and addiction services in Wellington are to take a funding cut, sparking fears of more suicides and that seriously mentally ill people will have nowhere to go.

The funding is being cut despite the Government saying it had increased mental health funding by $85 million this financial year.

Capital and Coast and Hutt Valley district health boards said they were looking at making savings in mental health and addiction services.

Marion Blake, chief executive for Platform, the umbrella group for many of the country's mental health and addiction non-government organisations, said she understood Wellington's and Hutt Valley's cuts were "almost certain" but cuts were also on the cards nationwide.

Ms Blake said the organisations ranged from addiction services in prisons to employment support, counselling, and community support workers for people with addiction or mental health problems.

Each day in Wellington alone, at least 1500 people used the services that would be affected if funding cuts went through.

She understood Capital and Coast was looking to cut $2m annual funding from mental health and addiction services. She predicted an increase in suicides, and said some patients would end up living on the streets. "People will become more isolated and will become more acutely unwell and they will end up in hospital."

Capital and Coast planning and funding director Sandra Williams said the health board had a "multimillion-dollar deficit" and had to make savings.

"We have to recover at least $10m a year from our community and primary health services, some of which will be in our mental health and addiction services."

There would be an effort to keep frontline services for those needing them most, she said, and the cuts could come in the form of restructuring, reducing, or combining services.

Hutt Valley board acting chief executive Michael Hundleby said it was looking at contracts with mental health, drug, and alcohol providers, with a total value of about $300,000.

Aspire Inc general manager Karin Keith said she had been told its Newtown drop-in centre, the Clubhouse, would lose $55,000 in annual funding. It would almost certainly have to close because rent would not be covered, she said.

Aspire cared for those from the 3 per cent of the population with the most severe mental illness, many of whom were recently discharged from hospital.

It dealt with about 60 people each day and offered advocacy services, activities, tea, coffee, and food.

"It's somewhere for them to go that's safe during the day," Mrs Keith said. If the Clubhouse shut, its clients would either be out on the streets during the day or would not leave their homes.

Ad Feedback Clubhouse support worker Conray Samuel, 47, a previous client of the Clubhouse, said he had "at my worst" been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

The centre was "somewhere safe to come, somewhere to go during the day". It provided a place "to get out of one's flat, to mix with similar people, which is a very important thing".

A spokesman for Associate Health Minister Jonathan Coleman said that in the last Budget, the Government had increased mental health funding by $85 million for the financial year, to $1.81 billion. It was up to individual health boards how they spent that money.

The Health Ministry said the cuts were "not a national initiative" and involved a decision made by individual health boards.