The Press

Community service unaffordab­le: GPs

- Cate Broughton

Funding of $600,000 for new mental health services is yet to be spent in Canterbury, with some GPs saying they cannot afford to provide space for the Government programme.

Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) confirmed it was allocated $4.9 million for mental health services in general practices in 2020/21 as part of a $40m national budget for Te Tumu Waiora, the Government’s integrated primary mental health and addiction (IPMHA) service.

Under Te Tumu Waiora – te reo for ‘‘to head towards wellness’’ – three new types of staff can join a general practice and work with patients suffering mental distress – health improvemen­t practition­ers (HIPs), health coaches and support workers, according to the ministry.

GPs can also refer patients to Te Tumu Waiora staff employed by non-government organisati­ons.

Under the scheme the Government provides funding for mental health staff, but GPs are required to provide a space for them to

work with patients.

The CDHB has spent $4.3m of the budget to fund 17 HIPs and 25 health coaches – new roles created for the programme – across 15 medical centres, acting planning and funding manager Ralph La Salle said.

He indicated the underspend­ing was a result of a lack of GP ‘‘readiness’’, staff and access to training.

The CDHB is working with the Ministry of Health on how the unspent funds could be used in the future, La Salle said.

The slow roll-out of Te Tumu Waiora announced in 2019’s Budget has been heavily criticised by health providers and mental health advocates.

New figures provided to The Press show waiting times for specialist child and youth mental health services have increased by two weeks on average since 2017.

Riccarton Clinic GP Angus Chambers said his practice would have to provide and pay for 41⁄2 extra rooms each day to accommodat­e the counsellin­g services.

‘‘That looks like us kicking doctors out of rooms and using them to put mental health workers in. We haven’t taken advantage of it because we can’t afford to give rooms away . . . we have to pay rent on them.’’

Chambers said his practice received CDHB funding to provide

36 hours of counsellin­g services, but this was not enough to meet demand. There is currently a wait of three to four weeks for the service.

The Ministry of Health said it had exceeded its initial target of

100 GP practices offering Te Tumu Waiora by July, 2021, with 178 practices across 15 district health boards providing the service.

Mental health and addiction manager Jo Chiplin said discussion­s were under way with health boards about future funding to expand the service to more GPs.

‘‘We haven’t taken advantage of it because we can’t afford to give rooms away . . . we have to pay rent on them.’’

Angus Chambers Riccarton Clinic GP

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