ANZASW statement on the government's response to He Ara Oranga
The Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers (ANZASW) welcomes the government’s acceptance of most of the recommendations contained in He Ara Oranga – the report of the Government Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction.
“Radical action on mental health and addiction has been needed for a long time, and we’re pleased to see the government taking some appropriate steps in recognition of this,” ANZASW Chief Executive Lucy Sandford-Reed said.
“Under-funding and rising demand has meant that mental health and addictions services have been too difficult to access and over-stretched for some time. Social workers in the community sector and those who use their services have been particularly affected,” she noted, adding: “with the levels of suicide in this country and heightening demand for access to acute or crisis services, improving mental health and addiction outcomes should be a priority for all who are concerned about the well-being of our society.”
“By acknowledging many of the report’s recommendations and committing to measures such as increased funding for crisis and community mental health services, improving access to services for those who are not in acute states of poor mental health and the repeal and replacement of the Mental Health Act, the government is developing a foundation for much-needed transformative change which we hope can be built upon,” she continued.
“We also appreciate the decision to re-establish an independent mental health commission, which played an important role in the past in improving accountability, oversight and service user confidence,” the Chief Executive said.
However, the Association regrets that the government did not agree to set to set a suicide reduction target against which they can be held to account; we hope that this will take place in the near future, perhaps when the national suicide prevention strategy is completed.
We are disappointed that the Maori-focused recommendations in the report have not received explicit support from government. The Association believes that, as a group with higher than average rates of suicide and addiction, Tangata Whenua providers must be better resourced and empowered to provide commuity-based solutions. This also applies to the Pasifika community which experiences above average rates of mental health and addiction challenges.
We are also disappointed that the government are yet to give concrete details on what they intend to do about other proposals contained in the report, such as how to achieve equitable access to mental health support for under-served communities. Additionally, we believe the government should be less non-committal on the recommendation to replace criminal sanctions for possession of controlled substances with fines or treatment.
The Association maintains (as it wrote in December, when the report was released) that it’s recommendations should be accepted and adopted in full.
As we noted in our submission to He Ara Oranga, mental health and addictions social workers play an indispensable role in enhancing the well-being of service users and any truly successful reform of the system would necessarily require an increased number of colleagues available to the public in this area.
We hope that these important changes will come to pass at the nearest possible opportunity.