The health minister has responded to recent reports of mental health beds being closed because of nursing shortages by saying the number of mental health nurses is increasing faster than other nursing areas.
Capital and Coast District Health Board's mental health services general manager said last week that three beds would be temporarily closed at its acute mental health unit while waiting for new nursing staff to start. He also said mental health staffing levels were a national issue.
Health Minister Jonathan Coleman said in a statement today that Health Workforce New Zealand statistics showed number of registered nurses working in mental health and addiction services had increased from 3583 in 2011 to 4206 in 2016 – a higher rate than in other nursing areas.
“Over that period the number of registered nurses in addiction services has increased 23 per cent; community mental health has increased 22 per cent, and hospital based mental health services have increased 12 per cent," said Coleman.
PSA National Secretary Erin Polaczuk said last week that its mental health members in Wellington were under constant stress and called for an independent review of the mental health system and urged the minister to listen and take action.
Coleman said it had increased mental health and addiction service funding from $1.1 billion in 2008-09 to more than $1.4 billion for 2015-16 but there was "always more we can do and the Government continues to work on improving mental health services".
He said the sector was also seeing the mental health and addiction nursing workforce better reflecting the population with this year 19 per cent of the new graduates employed in mental health and addictions identifying as Māori, 15 per cent as Pacific and 48 per cent as European. The national ACE recruitment data also showed that mental health was consistently amongst the top three preferences for new graduate nurses; since mental health and addictions was added to the voluntary bonding scheme nearly a third of the nurses who have signed up to the voluntary bonding scheme were in this category.
Coleman also pointed to the Ministry of Health's recently published Mental Health and Addiction Workforce Action Plan 2017-2021 as confirming the ministry's commitment to the mental health workforce.