Seeing Health Minister Andrew Little claim he’s “extraordinarily frustrated” that almost nothing has happened to date with the $1.9B allocated in the 2019 Budget for mental health services and facilities, significantly diminishes the standing of a a Government Minister previously thought of as competent and ‘on top of his portfolio’.
When Little was Labour’s Leader, he earned a lot of plaudits for his public stance on mental health – a basket case for years under previous governments – as did his replacement, and current PM, Jacinda Ardern.
Collectively they convinced New Zealand that what was then a disaster zone would get money and attention thrown at it, sufficient to tackle the horrendous toll that poor mental health and its evil offshoot, suicide, was inflicting on the country, particularly the youth.
Only we’ve had two Health minister’s since Labour became Government and nothing has changed; or to be more precise, while Budgets have got better, they haven’t been used in any measurable sense, and the state of the country’s mental health has further deteriorated.
I hear the cries from Labour stalwarts ‘they inherited a mess from National, give them time’, etc. As a Labour Party member myself, I reject such deflection….it works a little for your first term in Government, but it wears awfully thin when you hear only 5 new mental health beds have been created after 4 years in office, not even keeping pace with four weeks of population growth, let alone community need! And this is despite $1.9B new money being allocated.
Mental Health advocate Mike King was not joking (his former profession) when a few weeks ago he returned his medal received from the Government because of services to mental health – he is absolutely seeing the community need and feeling the frustration about the lack of action.
Andrew Little has been around long enough to know that if you leave the same bunch of bureaucrats and patch protectors in charge of mental health, you will get the same results as you have had for years. Only this time it is a supposedly progressive Government being attacked for inaction by both their right-wing opponents and those in the community dealing with the consequences of the inaction.
There has been no noticeable change in the Ministry of Health‘s mental health ‘leadership’; the District Health Boards’ responsible for implementing change are not being required to show how they are implementing on-the-ground improvements to mental health services; and the senior psychiatrists and mental health managers are still protecting the same patches that they have for 30 years.
Despite all the right words being used by the PM and her Ministers, the community still isn’t being given any more influence in the running of mental health services than it previously had; and all the hoopla of the Mental Health Review and its resulting Mental Health Commission have only delivered yet another bunch of yes-men and yes-women too scared to stick their heads above the parapet.
In all my years of politics and community affairs, I have yet to see a turkey that willingly voted for an early Christmas, so don’t be surprised, Andrew, that sweet fuck all has changed, when you have left the same turkeys in charge!
Dave Macpherson – TDB mental health blogger & Former Waikato DHB Elected Member whose son was killed by public health incompetence.