I said I’d vote for the guys with a decent suicide prevention policy….turns out I can’t

In April I wrote to all the political parties with seats in the current Parliament. The letter written individually to each leader read like this:

 

I have just written a blog that shows we spend just 2% of the cost of the road safety enforcement programme on preventing suicide, yet we lose approaching double the road toll to the suicide “epidemic” at johndavies.nz.

What will you offer us this year in terms of an improvement on this investment, specifically how it will lift the around $6 million a year investment on suicide prevention?

Beyond the investment, how will it promote solutions to the issues and what might those solutions be?

 

In my blog I have promised my readers to report back on the responses to my questions. I look forward to sharing your responses.

So here are the responses so that you can see for yourself how I reach my conclusion which is at the end of this post:

ACT – no response

United Future – no response

The Maori Party

I got a very long pdf letter that I don’t have time to retype and can’t copy and paste from easily. So let me summarise. Rather than answering my questions, an early paragraph in the letter from Honore Te Ururoa Flavell reads “This response provides information about the contribution I have made and will continue to make towards preventing suicide in Aotearoa”. He makes reference to $2.4 million spent by Oranga Rangatahi and the Maori Potential Fund. This appears to be funding I did not identify from my research in to Vote Health and almost doubles the Government expenditure in this area. It’s positive but limited in its scope, being Maori only.

The National Party

Again, a pdf that I can’t readily copy and paste. So summarising, it started by talking about the suicide prevention strategy workforce efforts, this being the reporting body Mike King loudly walked away from for not being prepared to set a target. Then it covered off the overall commitment improvements being worked on for mental health in the broadest sense and the $224 million dollar increase. The letter barely mentions suicide prevention preferring to stay with the global mental health issue.

The Labour Party

I put a bit of effort in to getting this response but I did get it.

Hi John

Maria (sic) has prompted me to respond to your email at the bottom of this trail. My apologies for the delay. I am afraid a few responses fell through the cracks around the time I took this portfolio on. I am sure you will appreciate that the volume of correspondence around suicide and suicide prevention is not insignificant, and as an opposition spokesperson I get to answer personally, rather than having an entire team to draft my answers!

In the interim Labour has announced policy on mental health which falls at the preventative end of the spectrum (see Mental Health: http://www.labour.org.nz/announced_policies ) namely mental Heath co-ordinators in primary care, and school-based health services.

On top of this, we have backed widespread calls for a review of mental health service provision, better independent oversight of the system through reinstatement of the mental health commissioner, increased education and more adequate funding. Variants of these requests were prominent in ‘the people’s mental health review’, but have also been made by other groups prominent in the prevention area.

Independent research group Infometrics has examined Treasury data at Labour’s request and estimates that overall, the health system has been shortfunded $2.3 billion since 2009. (Sortfunding (sic) being the extra amount required to have been put into the system on top of what actually has been by the government if existing service levels were to be maintained). No surprises I guess that healthcare has become less accessible when the system hasn’t been fully funded for cost pressures and demographic growth.

Labour has pledged to meet cost pressures in the health sector going forward, and to backfill the missing $2.3 billion over time. Mental health has often been the poor cousin in the health sector, and despite a 60% increase in the number of people accessing mental health services in the past decade, has seen only an increase in funding equivalent to less than half of that. That situation will change under a Labour Government.

Mental health is a top priority for me and for Labour.

Thank you for your correspondence, and again, apologies for the delay in coming back to you.

David (Clark)

I’ll leave it to you to decide if Mr Clark answered my email.

The Greens

Congrats to them, they were the fastest to respond.

Hi John

Thanks for your email about New Zealand’s suicide rate. The Green Party agrees that our mental health system is broken and have been campaigning for a full inquiry into our mental health services.

Mental health services are struggling all around the country because of Government cuts to the health system, and our vulnerable young people are paying the price with their lives. The National Government has underfunded DHBs and community services, scrapped the Mental Health Commission and chosen to focus resources on targets that don’t include mental health. The most vulnerable in our society are the ones bearing the brunt of these decisions. There urgently needs to be a nationwide mental health inquiry, similar to the Mason Reports in the nineties, to ensure that New Zealanders are able to access the mental health support that they need. We have a draft terms of reference that the Government could pick up immediately to start an inquiry.

An issue that I am particularly passionate about is ensuring waiting times for mental health services for young people are reduced. Early intervention and prevention means our young people can be supported through a tough time in their life, and recover to not need further services. It’s like a big pyramid, at the top there are specialist services for acute patients and down the bottom there are broad preventive services that keep you well. They are cheaper and more accessible, so the more of those you use, the fewer interventions you will need at the top of the pyramid. We need to invest more funding to ensure there is help available when people reach out for it.

A full mental health inquiry would undoubtedly uncover many more issues that need improvement. The Green Party is committed to addressing mental health issues systemically, and this will help lower our far too high suicide rate.

We are committed to:

  1. Ensuring mental healthcare training and practice is grounded in holistic, humanistic perspectives that recognise each individual as whole.
  2. Encouraging mental health providers to work within multi-disciplinary teams that hold the well-being of the client at the heart of their practice. Wherever possible, clients have a primary provider who remains with them through their recovery process.
  3. Funding innovative initiatives that indicate high recovery rates with low/minimal drug use.
  4. Ensuring physical health needs of people with mental health needs are also well met.
  5. Ensuring both inpatient and community (including residential) services are well-resourced and provided at levels to ensure all clients can use services well-matched to their individual needs.

Yours sincerely on behalf of,

Julie Anne Genter

New Zealand First

Dear John

Thank you for your email.  I will pass your message on to Mr Peters.

Yours sincerely

Audrey van Dalen l Senior Executive Assistant to:

Rt Hon Winston Peters

 

CONCLUSION

No one has a clear suicide prevention policy, so my decision to vote will be based on something else sadly. The only positive I can take from this is that both major parties say they know mental health needs more funding. But National’s proposed increase is still lower than the amount being spent on the road toll and is across all mental health services, not just suicide. Labour says they will increase Vote Health by re-investing their claimed $2.3 billion shortfall from the period of this current National led government. But they are promising a hell of a lot so I have some doubts as to the reliability of that promise. So I am not warm to either of them. Of the minor parties, the Greens have clarly put the most thought in to the wider issue but again, despite the huge publicity around this issue, they like all the other parties in Parliament do not have the issue directly covered.

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