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Our poor mental health: 38% of treatments incomplete

The mental health sector is facing nationwide clinician shortages, and Wairarapa is no exception, with long wait times and a number of clinical positions currently vacant.

Mental health data for Wairarapa reveals that from February 2023 to January 2024, 747 people out of 1191 referrals – or just 62 per cent – had their treatment marked as completed.

The mean wait time for the first face-to-face consult at Child, Adolescent and Family Mental Health Service [CAMHS] was over one month, while the mean wait time for Wairarapa Community Mental Health Team [CMHT] was more than 20 days.

While the College of Clinical Psychologists has noted the nationwide shortage of over 1000 psychologists, Te Whatu Ora has confirmed that the CMHT – which treats moderate to severe individuals – had zero psychiatrists and a vacancy for 2.5 fulltime equivalent [FTE] positions, zero psychologists and psychotherapists and a vacancy of one FTE as of
March 4.

It also noted that the region’s CAMHS had zero psychiatrists and a vacancy of one FTE, and two psychologists/psychotherapists with a vacancy of 0.6 FTE.

According to John Moore, chief executive of national mental health support service Yellow Brick Road, the biggest challenge facing mental health care in Wairarapa is the bottleneck at the clinical end.

“We certainly have a lot of concerns about the availability of many of the professionals,” he said.

“Most of the available resources are fighting fires rather than reducing them.

“There’s no question that without adequate services, we’re placing people at risk as they’re not getting onto a pathway to wellbeing.”

Moore said that those suffering from mental ill health are “often getting worse” and that “unfortunately, Wairarapa has some sad statistics on this front”.

“Whānau [family] have expressed to us the issue of shortages in respite and other accommodation-based services for acutely distressed people,” he said, while services promoting wellbeing and building resilience in whānau and communities are often an “afterthought”.

That said, Moore believes that “clinical services are just one part of the answer” and advocates for community services with open referral pathways that are complementary to clinical services and focus on clinical intervention rather than “gatekeeping” service access.

“Fast and equitable access to clinical services is crucial, but building services that provide more of a fence at the top of the cliff has got to become a priority.”

Moore believes greater investment in wellness services and promotion of alternative pathways for mental health would be beneficial.

“We hope that whānau voice is not forgotten. It’s the biggest, most important provider of mental health support in Aotearoa.”

In a statement, Te Whatu Ora noted that “Like other healthcare providers nationwide, the Mental Health, Addiction and Intellectual Disability Service is faced with the challenge of recruiting during a significant nationwide shortage of professionals qualified and trained to support those with mental health, addiction, and/or intellectual disability issues.

“Health New Zealand – Capital, Coast and Hutt Valley and Wairarapa Hospital areas launched a comprehensive recruitment and retention strategy last year, with a focus on international recruitment, return to work programmes, and improved systems and processes that support recruitment and retention of the workforce.”

Regarding waiting times for CAMHS and CMHT, during the waiting period for first face to face contact, phone contact is made, and those experiencing acute crisis have their wait times reduced, with a follow-up from the Crisis Resolution Service, Te Whatu Ora said.

There are nine Access and Choice services in Wairarapa including seven general practices with services in Integrated Primary Mental Health and Addiction, one youth service in the community, and one kaupapa Māori service.

“Together, these services have 16.2 contracted FTE working in them,” Te Whatu Ora said.

“For financial year 2022/23, Access and Choice services delivered 5319 sessions and saw 3122 people in the Wairarapa.”

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