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Labour plans new mental health pilot

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 10/05/2017

A Labour government will fund eight new mental health teams around the country in a two-year pilot programme to create a "front door" to services, party leader Andrew Little has pledged.

Canterbury, where earthquakes increased the need for services, would be home to one of the teams while seven other locations are still to be determined based on need.

It's a fresh approach that would provide quicker and easier access to services, Mr Little says.

The pilot schemes would provide free access to a GP and referral to a mental health co-ordinator who would determine the need for counselling, secondary psychiatric help or other therapy.

"Then that mental health co-ordinator will keep track of the progress you're making and what you're doing and how you're going so you don't fall through the cracks," he said.

General Practitioner Tim Malloy thinks the programme could make a real difference to people with mental health issues.

About 20 per cent of patients seen by GPs have a mental health component, according to Dr Malloy, who is also president of the Royal NZ College of General Practitioners.

"It's a significant part of the work that we do," he said.

"So the reality is the burden on us diminishes the capacity to respond to that particular need and so the idea of addressing that gap is a significant step forward in our community."

Fifty co-ordinators will work across the eight regions providing services to as many as 40,000 people initially.

It's expected around 10 per cent of people within the regions will access mental health services through the programme.

Nationwide rollout would follow the two-year pilot.

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman says the plan is "a bit lame" after the amount of complaining about mental health that's been coming from Labour.

"Mental health is a challenge and always has been," he told reporters.

"We're responding to it - more people are getting more access to treatment, and more quickly, than ever before."

Prime Minister Bill English believes similar proposals are already in the pipeline.

"The services have ben growing. There's something like 25 per cent growth in the staffing of mental health services over the last five years, but those services will continue to grow and there's a range of proposals for how that might happen," he said.

He said it was good that Labour supported those proposals but was unable to provide specific details of what they were.

Labour's announcement was made as part of a primary healthcare summit hosted by the party at parliament on Thursday.

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