This primary health care service will place trained mental health workers in doctors’ clinics, iwi health providers and other health services across the country making professional help immediately available for those suffering mental health issues. 

“We want to make it as easy as possible for people to get support when they need it, which is why we are integrating this new initiative into the health services people use most often, like GPs,” says Health Minister David Clark.

“By the end of the rollout we expect up to 325,000 people a year will be able to access this new model of primary mental health care – these are the people He Ara Oranga identified as the ‘missing middle’.”

In 2019/20, $48.1 million will be invested in expanding access and choice in primary mental health and addiction support, ramping up as workforce and sector capacity increases to $455.1 million over four years.

In her Wellbeing Budget speech, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern talked in detail about a medical centre in South Auckland she visited which has adopted this model.

“GPs were discovering that in their short 15-minute appointments, patients were opening up. They’d share issues that often went beyond just a medical issue. But they never had the time, or necessarily the expertise to help.

“They’d do what they could, perhaps send a referral for their patient to see the DHB’s mental health services, and that would be it.”

Because patients often wouldn’t follow up on these appointments, the centre decided to bring mental health professionals to them.

“They brought in mental health workers who were trained and could take appointments right away due to flexibility in their working day. The doctor would hear their story, then walk them down to someone who could support them right then and there.”

“GPs are often the first port of call for people suffering from mental health issues, so having allied health services within general practices will help patients access the care they need, when they need it,” says Dr Samantha Murton, President of The Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners.

She is heartened to hear there will be a strong focus on mental health and addiction services through a well-resourced primary care system, and that the stepped-care model the College advocated for has been funded.

“This model will allow GPs to physically walk the patient to a trained mental health worker and ensure continuity of care and support for their patients when they need it most.”

Murton says accessibility to mental health services has always been a barrier, so enhancing primary care services, such as general practices and Kaupapa Maori and Pasifika providers, “is a welcome positive step”.

“We look forward to finding out more about how the $455m allocated will be distributed.”

Other key initiatives in the Mental Health package:

  • $200 million extra for new and existing mental health and addiction facilities
  • Expanding the nurses in schools programme to decile 5 secondary schools – reaching an extra 5,600 students
  • $128.3 million for Department of Corrections to spend on mental health and addiction services
  • $197 million to tackle homelessness through Housing First
  • Funding for the Te Ara Oranga programme in Northland to help up to 500 people a year who are addicted to methamphetamine.

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