“Concerning gaps” in the Mental Health and Addiction Inquiry report have been noted by NZNO who say more emphasis was required on nursing and workforce wellbeing.

The  long awaited 200-page report, He Ara Oranga, was released in early December and acknowledges that  the current mental health and addiction system is “under severe pressure and unsustainable” and significant investment was needed to work towards resolving the workforce crisis.

But the report was released in a week where there have been several reports of mental health nurses being injured by patients, and workforce bodies are calling for prompt and decisive action on the report’s recommendations. The Government is due to formally respond to the report in March in the lead-up to the 2019 Budget being announced in May.

NZNO President Grant Brookes said many of the issues raised by NZNO in its submission to the Inquiry had been addressed, but there remained some “concerning gaps”.

Andy Colwell, the convenor of the Public Service Association’s Mental Health and Addiction Committee which represents many mental health nurses, said the clock was now ticking because, as the report noted, mental health workers and others had been waiting long enough for change.

“It is important to note that this report puts a spotlight on escalating demand for specialist services, limited support for people in the community and difficulties recruiting and retaining staff,” said Colwell. “As the panel has concluded, this is a system that is under pressure – and I would add a system where staff safety is being put at risk every day.”

Brookes said NZNO appreciated the people-centred nature of the report and its willingness to apply fresh thinking to old and complex problems. However, he added, there was nothing in the recommendations to address current workforce wellbeing issues, including increasing incidences of violence towards staff.

“Nurses, whether in the community or in hospitals, are essential. They’re at the forefront in treating mental health and addiction, but we know the mental health and addiction nursing workforce is becoming more tired, fearful and burnt out.

“That makes it a difficult branch of nursing to recruit to. So if we fail to plan for a nursing workforce that is robustly resourced, safe in the workplace and fully staffed, then many of the Inquiry’s other recommendations will come to nothing.

He agreed that the report was a “once in a generation opportunity” and with Health Minister David Clark’s statement that reshaping New Zealand’s approach to mental health and addiction was no small task that would take some time.

“We think so too, and urge the Government to begin work on a plan to address mental health and addiction needs in New Zealand without delay – and this must include nursing workforce issues.”

NZNO Kaiwhakahaere Kerri Nuku said she welcomes the report’s focus on strengthening Kaupapa Māori services.

“NGOs and Kaupapa Māori services play a vital role in providing culturally appropriate responses and supporting whānau in the community.

“Removing barriers short-term contracting costs and streamlining funding would make these services more sustainable and ensure that the workforce in this sector is well supported.”

Nuku said NGOs and Kaupapa Māori services form a key part of the ‘whole of government’ approach to wellbeing and that Government must support their development.

The NZNO pair said the organisation looked forward to continuing to work with the Government and other stakeholders to help bring about the changes recommended in the report.


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