Minister of Health on colonisation and youth suicide

In an interview with NZ Herald new Minister of Health David Clark linked youth suicide with colonisation – New Health Minister David Clark on youth suicide: We have a problem and we need to talk about it

Labour campaigned on mental health and pledged the return of the mental health commissioner and an inquiry into mental health.

Terms of reference and other details around the inquiry were yet to be settled, Clark said, but forecast it as wide ranging, considering issues of colonisation and poverty.

He spoke of “hardship, or the after-effects of colonisation, or trauma in their own lives or personal histories”.

He was questioned about this in Parliament yesterday.

Hansard transcript (slightly edited):

7. Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (National—Northcote) to the Minister of Health: What quantifiable health service improvements, if any, will his policies deliver?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK (Minister of Health): This Government is committed to providing affordable access to quality healthcare for all New Zealanders. This will happen in many ways; there are too many examples to list. However, to pick just one, I can tell the member that more people will be able to access affordable primary healthcare.

Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman: By exactly how much will he lift the number of elective surgeries above the 174,000 delivered in the past year, given his commitment to increase access to elective surgery?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I will not be rushed into committing to specific targets. I want a health system that is honest and transparent with targets not like the previous Government’s one, which was pumping statistics by performing Avastin injections and skin legion removals that could have been done in primary care.

Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It was a very direct question. If he doesn’t have an answer, he should just say so.

Mr SPEAKER: No. I probably was a bit slack letting him go on after he answered the question in the first sentence.

Matt Doocey: By how much will he reduce the suicide rate over the next three years now that his Government has taken responsibility for the rate, as reported in the New Zealand Herald yesterday in the article entitled “… New Health Minister pledges change on youth suicide”?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: One suicide is one suicide too many. I do not believe it will be possible to eliminate suicide in the first term of this Government, but we are committed to lowering the rate of suicide in New Zealand, and I am looking forward to beginning the mental health inquiry.

Dr Shane Reti: What did he mean exactly by his statement to the New Zealand Herald yesterday that addressing colonisation will be an important part of his mental health inquiry?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: That is one factor that I said to the New Zealand Herald I expect will come up in the inquiry.

Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman: Can he explain the improvements his policies will have on the link that he believes exists between colonisation and youth suicide?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: This Government will commit to a mental health review—an inquiry, a ministerial inquiry—and that inquiry I have asked to be broad. It will cover a variety of topics, including the one the former Minister has raised, and I expect it to provide answers that will help us to provide mental health services that New Zealanders need.

It was a topic that the Minister raised in his interview with the Herald.

New Zealand has an alarmingly high level of youth suicide, and of all types of suicide. The annual suicide toll is now over 600, far higher than the road toll that has had huge funding to try to reduce it.

It is an urgent problem that needs action faster than a general mental health review, and the causes of suicide are much wider than just mental health. Many of those who commit suicide are never in the mental health system.

“I do not believe it will be possible to eliminate suicide in the first term of this Government” – it won’t be possible to eliminate suicide in any time frame.

“…we are committed to lowering the rate of suicide in New Zealand…” – as was the last Government, without success.

“…and I am looking forward to beginning the mental health inquiry” – I’d like to see more urgency and action than that.