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No Funding For New Zealanders With Severe Mental Illness And AddictionIssues In The Budget

Psychiatrists say the Luxon-led Government has failed to meet its pre-election commitment to fund additional psychiatry training places in today’s budget, despite the escalating mental health workforce crisis across the motu.

Prior to the election, the then-spokesperson for mental health in the National Party, Matt Doocey, committed to funding 13 additional psychiatry registrar places. Psychiatrists are questioning why this commitment has been left out of today’s budget.

Despite Minister Doocey having previously acknowledged growing workforce vacancies and skyrocketing rates of mental distress across New Zealand, psychiatrists are disappointed that his words have not been backed by action in the Coalition Government’s first budget.

A report by ASMS recently found that in 2022-23, an estimated 329,000 adults and 55,000 children had an unmet need for Mental Health and Addiction services – a significant increase of 73 per cent and 45 per cent respectively since 2016-17.

Dr Hiran Thabrew, Chair of Tu Te Akaaka Roa, the RANZCP New Zealand National Committee said despite evidence that serious mental illness, including addiction, costs New Zealand $12 billion annually, we are yet to see any meaningful investment to help New Zealanders with severe and complex mental illness and addiction issues.

“Our mental health system is in crisis. Every day, people experiencing serious mental health or addiction issues are falling through the cracks.

“From an economic perspective, it’s shortsighted. When mental health care is delayed, or absent, it increases the chances of a condition getting worse, becoming harder to treat, and taking longer to recover.

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“It creates a cycle of crisis-driven care that ultimately costs more over time.

“As we said in our open letter to Minister Doocey earlier this month, it will also set us back on the targets set by the government to reduce stay times in emergency departments and wait times for first specialist assessments.”

Dr Thabrew welcomed funding for Gumboot Friday, which see $24m allocated for counselling services, but said today’s budget does not go far enough to address the critical and chronic workforce shortages in our mental health system.

“People with moderate to severe complex mental illnesses are at the greatest risk due to lack of support for specialist mental health services and the workforce that makes them.

“Our question to the government is when and how will the additional psychiatry training places promised prior to the election be funded.”

Tu Te Akaaka Roa, RANZCP’s New Zealand committee have cautiously welcomed several commitments made in today’s budget, including:

$9.720 million for a national Mental Health and Addiction Community Sector Innovation Fund

$8.5 million pledged over 4 years to increase medical school funding cap

$1.09 billion pledged from 2024-28 to Whaikaha – Ministry of Disability for disability support services

Dr Thabrew says there is still a long way to go.

“With dedicated and ongoing funding to grow our specialist mental health and addiction workforce, we can provide life-saving support to people with mental illnesses and addiction issues, reduce strain on our workforce and public health systems, and empower New Zealanders to lead fulfilling lives.

“We look forward to working collaboratively with Minister Doocey and the Coalition Government to make that a reality,” Dr Thabrew said.

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