Watch: Why doesn't NZ's mental health boss know the suicide rate? Can't answer SUNDAY reporter's basic question

New Zealand's suicide rate is at a record high – but the Government's mental health boss can't remember the figure.

Sunday's Jehan Casinader was only asking this question as a scene-setter. The answer left him gobsmacked. Source: Sunday

The admission came in an interview  to be broadcast this weekend.

The Ministry of Health's Director of Mental Health, Dr John Crawshaw, was asked how many people died from suicide last year.

He replied that the numbers "vary from year to year".

When pressed further, he acknowledged: "I just haven't got the numbers in my head."

The most recent provisional figures show that 579 Kiwis took their own lives in the year ended 31 March 2016 – the highest statistic since records began.

Dr Crawshaw has been in charge of mental health for five years.

He has recently come under fire from community advocates, including suicide prevention worker Mike King, who quit the Government's suicide prevention panel last week.

Mr King claimed that the Government's draft suicide prevention strategy was "deeply flawed" and a "masterclass in butt-covering".

This weekend, SUNDAY investigates the self-inflicted death of Christchurch teenager Harry McLean, who was in the care of the mental health service.

The programme also asks whether mental health services are too stretched to cope with increasing demand.

Watch the full story this Sunday at 7.30pm on TVNZ 1.