Judith Collins has slammed the reporting of mental health statistics in New Zealand, which was delayed over a year and shows dramatic edits compared to previous years, as "deceitful" and "extremely cruel".
It comes after Stuff revealed many indicators usually included in a routine annual report of the Government's mental health services had been removed after a months-long and contentious editing process revealed in an Official Information Act request, including wait-times, suicide stats and the overall proportion of the population using specialised mental health services.
The Ministry of Health told Stuff it was trying to modernise the way it presents data, not hide anything.
However, Collins this morning told Breakfast host John Campbell she intends to lay a complaint with the Public Services Commission.
"It looks awfully to me, John, as though there was actually some massaging going on of those statistics.
"There was clearly an argument going on within the top echelons, the Ministry of Health, about whether or not some statistics should be reported on, such as suicide statistics and wait times, because they were apparently negative.
"Well, yes, it is negative - that's why it needed to be reported on and we can't fix problems if we don't know the extent of them."
Communications within the ministry, which were sent to Stuff after an OIA request, revealed conversations of making the report "much shorter".
Ministry of Health communications boss Kate Clark argued that wider suicide data should be removed as the new Suicide Prevention Office would report on that, adding that there was "a lot of information that doesn't need to be included" in the 2019 report.
"I would suggest we could do something considerably different [and much shorter]," she said.
However, after looking at evidence on the issue, Collins said the Opposition wanted to take it further with the complaint.
"It looks on the face of it as though it is an attempt to be deceitful and actually it is extremely cruel to play with this sort of thing," she said.
"I use that word [deceitful] carefully because I can't understand how people must feel when they can't get access to mental health services and a loved one commits suicide, and to find out that important statistics like this have been held back or attempted to be held back on the basis that they are negative, they tell a negative story, well it is negative and we do need to fix it."
Collins also said this comes after the Government had made "big promises" around mental health issues in New Zealand.
"We don't know whether or not this has come from the minister's office. We sincerely hope it hasn't," she said.
There is no evidence to suggest it had.
"As someone who's been a minister in these positions, it is really important that no self censoring bureaucracy decides what a minister or what the people should know because it might cause them some difficulty," Collins said.
"That would be extraordinary, so that's why we think it should go to the Public Services Commission."