Access and choice for mental health and addiction services encouraging, but workforce challenges remain

Considerable progress has been made with the Access and Choice programme rollout over the last year, despite significant challenges for the primary care and mental health and addiction sectors in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. This is according to the second report on the programme by Te Hiringa Mahara – Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission, which has been released today.

The Access and Choice Programme: Report on the first three years  and its accompanying Improving access and choice for youth  report look at the first three years of the rollout since funds were allocated to the priority initiative in the 2019 Wellbeing Budget.

“We are past the halfway point of the programme, and now is a good time to pause and reflect on whether the investment into community and primary care is paying the dividends identified in He Ara Oranga,” says Te Hiringa Mahara Chair Hayden Wano.

“These reports provide us with an opportunity to see where progress is being made, not only in access to services but also in having the opportunity to have genuine service choice. There are more services and capacity in previously under-supported areas, growth in Kaupapa Māori services, and higher rates of access to youth services for rangatahi Māori.”

While high quality access and choice requires culturally and socially appropriate service settings and delivery, it also requires a stable and well-trained workforce, sufficient staff, and professional sensitivity to do the job.

“We are pleased to see an improvement in the size of the Kaupapa Māori workforce compared with last year, with 29 Kaupapa Māori services contracted across 19 out of 20 districts. This included 17 additional Kaupapa Māori services established over the 2021/22 year.

"Service capacity must scale up over the next two years to meet expected population targets and will require further increases in workforce. To ensure the successful long-term transformation of mental health, addiction and wellbeing services in Aotearoa, we call for a comprehensive strategy and roadmap that will provide additional mental health and addiction staff and reduce pressure on the existing workforce.

“While we can and should take satisfaction from the progress made over the last three years, we need to ensure that people have mental health, wellbeing and addiction services when and where they are needed, and access to a diverse choice of services to suit their needs, so that they and those working on the frontlines continue to have trust and confidence in the system and hope about their future."