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Andrew Little says mental health reforms 'largely on track', following criticism

After criticism that the Government was dragging its feet on mental health reforms, Health Minister Andrew Little says its four-year plan was “largely on track” and will continue to ramp up.

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Andrew Little says there are limits to the speed the Government can move because some long-term changes are needed. Source: Breakfast

On Monday, Mental Health Foundation CEO Shaun Robinson told Breakfast the Government had “no plan’ and “no monitoring” two years on from He Ara Oranga, a national inquiry into mental health and addiction published in 2018.

At the time, the Government said it accepted, accepted in principle or would further consider 38 of the 40 recommendations made by the inquiry panel. 

Little told Breakfast today the Government had always expected a “somewhat slower ramp up” at the beginning of its four-year mental health plan. He said Covid-19 had also caused some delay. 

Of the more than $1 billion the Government had allocated for the plan, $350 million was due to be spent by the end of June this year and $280 million had already been spent or had been earmarked. Little said spending would continue to increase each year.

Of the 38 recommendations, he said: “It’s not possible to say they’ve all been implemented.

“Every recommendation that the Government accepted is being worked on. Some can be implemented more quickly than others. Others are longer-term or ways to approach.”

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But, he said there was already a “big change” in providing services for those with mild to moderate mental health concerns, which was one of the major gaps identified by He Ara Oranga. 

Little said some recommendations could take months or years to implement because the Government had inherited a “badly run down” system.

Work was also underway with the sector to create a long-term plan beyond the four years of the programme, he said. 

He said Cabinet would review the final report from its Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission, set up to monitor progress on mental health reform within the next few weeks, before it would be made public. 

In the commission’s interim report in June last year, it found a lack of direction in mental health and a lack of evidence that money was being put in places where meaningful change could be made.

The final report showed progress on “all fronts”, but less so in other areas, Little said. 

“More could be done and should be done.” 

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Chief executive Shaun Robinson says there’s “no plan” two years on from the inquiry into mental health and addiction. Source: Breakfast

He put the “justified frustration” of groups like the Mental Health Foundation to a “big gap” in communicating the progress the Government had made.

“Should we do it faster? I would like us to, and I’ll keep putting the pressure on officials to do that. But there will be a limit on the pace at which we can move.”