Independent Commission’s report highlights the importance of improving access and choice for mental health and addiction services in Aotearoa

The Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission (the Commission) has today released its independent report into the progress of the Access and Choice Programme being developed and implemented under the leadership of the Ministry of Health. The programme, developed in response to recommendations in He Ara Oranga: Report of the Government Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction, has a particular focus on people with mild-to-moderate mental health and addiction needs and improving access to primary mental health, wellbeing and addiction services, including in Kaupapa Māori, Pacific, youth, general practice, and community settings.

“Access to mental health, wellbeing, and addiction services when they are needed, and giving people a diverse choice of services to suit their needs, are vitally important for the successful long-term transformation of mental health, addiction, and wellbeing systems in Aotearoa,” says Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission Board chair Hayden Wano.

“Our role is to be the eyes and ears of the people of New Zealand, amplifying the voices of our communities. We bring focus to areas where meaningful action can be taken. Appropriate access to and choice of services are important issues for our communities.”

The Commission’s report, titled: Access and Choice Programme: Report on the first two years / Te Hōtaka mō Ngā Whai Wāhitanga me Ngā Kōwhiringa: He purongo mo ngā rua tau tuatahi [PDF, 1.9 MB] is the first report of the Commission, which opened its doors in February 2021.

The report has found that the programme has put much-needed investment into primary and community care in line with many of the recommendations in He Ara Oranga, enabling important services to be provided.

“It is pleasing to see the overall programme is on schedule and that the roll out of integrated primary mental health and addiction (IPMHA) services is proceeding as planned,” says Wano.

“However, the Commission would like to see the rollout of services for Māori, Pacific peoples, and youth accelerated. This is of considerable importance and would benefit from more urgent and dedicated focus.”

Greater prioritisation implementing flexible, holistic services in a range of settings for Māori and Pacific peoples is needed, says Wano. The Commission also wants youth services prioritised and delivered in ways and in settings that are acceptable and accessible to young people.

Wano acknowledges that programme implementation has been happening during difficult times, with delays because of the COVID-19 response.

The pandemic has understandably been a big challenge. However, the Access and Choice programme is critical to ensuring that people have access to services and supports during these challenging times, and it is important that the programme implementation continues at pace.

“Recruitment into the workforce for services has been a challenge, particularly for Kaupapa Māori and Pacific services. “The Commission would like to see more investment in the peer support workforce, which would ease shortage issues and help diversify the workforce,” says Wano.

The Commission also has concerns that IPMHA services, which are delivered in general practice settings, are not completely free of charge.

“While many people have accessed these services, this may not include those who find co-payment a barrier to visiting their GP. This presents a significant equity issue,” Wano says.

While there are a number of areas that need more focus, overall he says it is exciting to see the momentum created by the Access and Choice programme.

“Now we need to see that momentum continue and expand, so everyone can have a choice of primary mental health, wellbeing, and addiction services that is right for them, and people can access services where and when they are needed.”