Manawatu Standard

Student mental health fund’s zero-spend

- Henry Cooke

A $25 million fund for student mental health announced in July 2020 is yet to spend a cent.

The zero-spend came after the Government cancelled a tender process and amid news it is set to spend tens of millions less than planned on its new frontline mental health service.

The Ministry of Health has blamed the wider under-spend on Covid-19, but the $25m was allocated in the midst of Covid-19 and explicitly sold as helping students through the pandemic.

‘‘The lockdown has been hugely disruptive for students. Many of them have had to relocate and move to online learning, isolating them from their peers and tutors,’’ Education and Health Minister Chris Hipkins said at the time. ‘‘Mental health is a priority for this Government, and it’s never been more important to ensure that our young people have access to the help they need it, when they need it.’’

Despite this, the fund intended to ramp up slowly, with just $2m planned to go out before July 2021. A tender process was set up in November, but this was cancelled in order to get the money out faster – with the cash being sent directly to the Government’s new mega-polytech Te Pu¯kenga.

But Te Pu¯kenga confirmed to Stuff on Tuesday that none of the money had actually been spent yet. Deputy chief executive Tana Winslade said the institutio­n was still in discussion­s with the Minstry of Health about how to use it. ‘‘Te Pu¯kenga is in discussion­s with the Ministry of Health about an allocation of $1.62 million per year for primary mental health and addiction services for tertiary students across our network of 16 subsidiari­es.’’

It’s understood there has been some disagreeme­nt between the Ministries of Health and Education over who was responsibl­e for administer­ing the money.

Health Minister Andrew Little said he expected contracts to be signed imminently. ‘‘I am advised that the 2020/2021 allocation of funding from the Ministry of Health is available to tertiary institutes, specifical­ly to Te Pu¯kenga and its subsidiari­es, and three wananga, and that once the contract is signed, services will be geared up quickly. I expect that to happen imminently, and understand services will be in a position to roll out after that.’’ Hipkins referred questions to Little’s office.

The New Zealand Union of Students Associatio­ns (NZUSA) President Andrew Lessells said it was ‘‘extremely disappoint­ing’’ that money allocated to help students during the pandemic was yet to be spent. ‘‘It’s extremely disappoint­ing that this funding was announced, that it has been trickled out by the ministry, and that it hasn’t been allocated to services – it’s not getting to the students who need it.’’

He said the process thus far – especially the cancelled tender process – had slowed things down.

‘‘The process that has been followed has been incredibly haphazard and has changed course several times now ... If they had meaningful­ly engaged with students when they first establishe­d this fund it would be getting to students by now.

‘‘While the Ministry and officials are debating where that funding should be going students on the ground are being failed as they go through the most challengin­g time for students in a generation.’’

National’smental health spokesman Matt Doocey said the Labour Government had promised big in mental health but had ‘‘completely failed to deliver.’’

He called on the Government to utilise existing providers to make sure services were actually increased.

 ?? ROBERT KITCHIN/STUFF ?? Chris Hipkins announced the $25 million fund in 2020. Inset: Matt Doocey said the Government was not delivering on mental health.
ROBERT KITCHIN/STUFF Chris Hipkins announced the $25 million fund in 2020. Inset: Matt Doocey said the Government was not delivering on mental health.
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