Nurses fear mental health funding boost for Canterbury won't make staff safer

Nurses are concerned a major funding boost for mental health services in Canterbury won't help keep frontline staff safe.

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The Government’s announced nearly $80 million to help in the region. Source: 1 NEWS

The Government's announced almost $80 million to relocate some services from the dilapidated Princess Margaret Hospital to a brand new facility at Hillmorton Hospital. 

Announcing the funding in Christchurch today, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the Christchurch earthquake highlighted the problem of health under-funding.

"There has been an underinvestment in our health services. And then to add on top of that the events of eight years ago meant that you had the perfect storm," she said.

Pressure on the system has seen recent brutal attacks on Hillmorton Hospital staff.  A nurse suffering burns from boiling water and another was stabbed.

Hilary Graham-Smith of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation told 1 NEWS many nursing staff are "experiencing real difficulties in working in those environments, and of course we're very anxious about their safety". 

And Ms Graham-Smith is worried the new funding, moving services from Princess Margaret Hospital to a new facility at Hillmorton, isn't targeting outdated infrastructure at that hospital, and doesn't address drastic staffing shortages.

"There is a desperate need to recruit mental health nurses. That has to be a priority and we wouldn't want this announcement of this additional funding to jeopardise that," she said.

Since the earthquakes, one in five Cantabrians have accessed mental health services. That's 700 more adults a month and 450 children and adolescents.

Despite the increase in need, the new facility will also see a reduction in bed numbers. 

But Canterbury District Health Board CEO David Meates says new facilities will help make staff safer, by allowing them to de-escalate potentially violent situations.

"What we've had is services overflowing. And that has created some issues with some violence that has occurred with staff. And that is again going to be one of our ongoing challenges, is how we continue to meet the demand and the need with the facilities we've got in the interim," Mr Meates said. 

And there is quite a wait, with the build only due to start late next year.