Mental health workers claim decent pay

Mental health care is a real and growing problem for the National Government and for New Zealand Society.

There was a major move from institutional mental health care late last century.

It was correctly decided that many people with mental health problems could be better cared for in the community. The problem is that proper community care has never been adequate. And the problems seem to be getting worse.

Part of the problem is the shortage of resources, mainly mental health staffing levels. It is a demanding and sometimes very stressful field of work, and community care pay rates have been pathetic.

Aged care and supporter workers campaigned for and eventually won a significant pay rise, due to take effect next month.  They succeeded through the courts by proving that  their workers were underpaid because the majority were female.

Mental health care workers are trying to do the same.

RNZ: Mental health workers lodge equal pay claim

Christchurch mental health support worker Vicki Harmon works for Pukeko Blue, an organisation which provides community care for those with mental health needs.

She works at one of the 12 residential homes in the city, which provide 24-7 care for seven residents.

It’s tough and demanding work, for which Ms Harmon is paid $16.50 an hour – 75 cents an hour more than the minimum wage.

One of her clients is a woman with an intellectual disability who has spent the last six weeks in the grip of mental illness, something she describes as “exhausting” and “very demanding”.

“Having somebody with a dual diagnosis – an intellectual disability and mental health – means that you are constantly aware of their mental state, not just their intellectual disability, that’s the same every day.

“But you need to be aware of their mental state, it can go up in two days and then it will come back down in two days. You’ve go to be vigilant all the time,” she said.

Auckland mental health worker Pollyanna Alo agreed the job could be challenging.

“There have been occasions where I have been spat on, verbally abused, even had a knife thrown at me,” she said.

Both women are among the 3000 to 4000 community mental health support workers who were left out of the historic pay equity claim for care and support workers, because the government wouldn’t include them.

While they have similar experience, qualifications and responsibilities to their colleagues in the disability support and aged care sector, in a fortnight’s time they can expect to be paid about $6 – $7 less an hour.

Today, two of the country’s largest unions – E tū and the Public Service Association – will lodge an equal pay claim with the Employment Relations Authority.

E tū’s assistant national secretary John Ryall said this was the third group left out of the historic settlement and is similar to a group of workers employed in vocational services with the Ministry of Social Development, which the union is also negotiating.

Mr Ryall said the government needed to support this claim and move swiftly to avoid the impending crisis.

“If the authority decides that, then the government as the funder of the sector needs to either pay the money or watch these places shut.

“We think the job these people do is so important, that it’s important the government gets involved in it,” he said.

Ms Alo said reducing the number of mental health workers would place more stress on district health boards, which were already struggling.

It was inevitable that other sectors would try to benefit from the success of the Care and Support workers.

The problems facing mental health care are probably greater. Pay rates need to be raised, but more workers are also required to deal with the growing demand.

More funding was made available in last month’s budget but it was criticised as not enough.

Stuff:  Frustration, disappointment over health funding in Budget 2017

Patients and healthcare workers say they have been left frustrated and disappointed by “inadequate” funding for health in the 2017 Budget.

They said the Government’s announcements on Thursday would not go nearly far enough in addressing concerns about overworked staff, access to new medicines, and access to mental health treatment.

The Government said total health spending would be a record $16.77 billion in 2017/18 – an increase of $879 million, with an overall increase of $3.9b over the next four years.

There are growing demands right across the health sector. On mental health:

The government committed $224m in funding for mental health in this year’s Budget.

That includes $100m for a new cross-government social investment fund that will “target innovative new proposals to tackle mental health issues”.

A further $100m will go to District Health Boards to support local mental health and addiction services, with funding also earmarked for Maori suicide prevention.

Mental Health Foundation spokesperson Sophia Graham welcomed the funding announcement as a “really positive step in the right direction”.

“It seems like a lot of money, but we need to see a commitment to sustained increases in funding,” she said.

Meanwhile, mental health workers and union representatives said the funding was only a fraction of what was needed to adequately respond to demand.

Social worker Andy Colwell said he expected to see the gap between demand and funding get even worse as a result of Budget 2017.

“As a mental health worker, seeing families struggling with life-threatening situations not being seen as urgent is incredibly frustrating, and knowing it will get worse is incredibly distressing,” Colwell said.

“It’s critically important to look at how the money is spent, and make sure we don’t just keep doing the same things that don’t work.”

Graham said key measures for success would be a reduction in the number of suicides, and a reduction in the number of people presenting critically ill at mental health units.

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman acknowledged there had been an increase in demand for mental health and addiction services in recent years.

“Cabinet will soon consider a new mental health and addiction strategy, which will include our new approach to dealing with mental health issues,” he said.

Mental health was covered on Sunday last night: Trouble in mind

Has a mental health crisis put our police under siege? Police officers say the number of emergency callouts for mental health related emergencies is skyrocketing. And they are struggling to cope. Police officers, patient advocates and a frightened family affected speak out.

Coleman wouldn’t comment for that programme but said he was taking a proposal to Cabinet soon. At least with an election looking there may be some urgency.

Clark v Coleman on mental health funding

Labour’s health spokesperson David Clark versus Health Minister Jonathan Coleman in Question Time on Tuesday – this approach doesn’t help the mental health debate.


Health, Minister—Statements on Authors of People’s Mental Health Report

11. Dr DAVID CLARK (Labour—Dunedin North) to the Minister of Health: Does he stand by his statement about the authors of the People’s Mental Health Report, “they’re very left-wing, anti-Government protesters”; if not, when will he apologise to the 500 people who wrote their own stories about experiences with the mental health system as part of the report?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (Minister of Health): Yes, and my statement distinguished between the genuinely motivated story submitters and those ActionStation organisers with some political agenda. My quote was: “When you look at the people behind it, [you know] they’re very left-wing, anti-Government protesters.” As I say, ActionStation is back on Thursday with another, separate, anti-Government protest within the health area, and it could be back week after week with different topics. And just for the record, the ActionStation campaign coordinator is Mr Rick Zwaan, the Green Party’s Wellington election campaign coordinator, who used to work as Kennedy Graham’s researcher. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! Supplementary question, Dr David Clark. [Interruption] Order! I have asked for less interjection from everybody so that Dr David Clark can ask his supplementary questions.

Dr David Clark: Has he read the report; if so, does he accept that its aim, as recorded in the executive summary, is to give space to the stories of what is really going on and going wrong in our mental health services?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Yes, I have read the report, and especially the executive summary, the first line of which is a totally false premise. It talks about $140 million being cut from health funding. Well, actually, health funding has gone up by $300 million, which kind of proves the point that this is a political document.

Dr David Clark: Does he think the contribution of Robbie, who described support services as expensive and inadequate, and which, he says, “almost drove him to take his own life”, should be dismissed as the experience of a left-wing, anti-Government campaign?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: I have already answered that. Look, I think Robbie’s experience is worth listening to, but that does not change the fact that this report is produced by a group of people who are permanent anti-Government protesters. If the member does not believe me, go and look at their website. They will be back here, week after week, on subject after subject after subject, because they do not like the Government.

Dr David Clark: Does he think the contribution of Mike King, who “describes despair and hopelessness in the face of inadequate access to mental health services”, should be dismissed as the experience of a left-wing, anti-Government campaigner?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Look, I think the member needs to speak to Mrs King about how you think on your feet. I have answered that question already. The organisers are from ActionStation, and it is the permanent anti-Government, left-wing protester. Mr King is a very good man—Mike King, as opposed to Mrs Annette King—who is genuinely motivated, and I do not detract from his efforts. But, as I say, when you have people like Mr Rick Zwaan, who used to work for Kennedy Graham, and his friends from the Green Party, I think it is pretty obvious that this is political.

Dr David Clark: Does he think the contribution of “the many parents who submitted in regard of their children’s experience of huge waiting lists and lack of funding” should be dismissed as the experience of a left-wing, anti-Government campaign?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: I point out to the member that he does not have to take all his supplementary questions, and if he cannot think of new material in response to the answers, he should just stop. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! We will deal with them one at a time.

Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. For two answers in a row, the Minister began by insulting the questioner rather than addressing the question. But the main substantive point is that despite the abuse in that last answer, he did not even address the question that was asked.

Mr SPEAKER: On this occasion—[Interruption] Order! I have been increasingly worried about the interchange between these two members and some of the answers that have been given on occasion by the Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman, but, on this occasion, when I consider the three questions that were asked, they were, effectively, the same question each time. Therefore, I can understand the frustration of the Minister in having answered the question the first time—he, effectively, gets the same question for the next two occasions.

Dr David Clark: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That question, in my view, was not addressed, because he had talked about ActionStation, which is the compiler of the report. I am asking a specific question about the comments from the parents within the report. That is a very specific and non – politically loaded question.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I would like to assist the member, but when I consider the answer that was given to, I think, the second supplementary question, that, effectively, was an answer that was then quite suitable for the rest of the questions the member asked, which were, effectively, just drawing on the experience of someone else within the book. The Minister was quite clear in saying he is not in any way critical of the experiences that were detailed in the report; he was certainly critical of the authors who put the report together.

Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. With respect, is the problem with that not that the Minister is trying to write this off as being a left-wing conspiracy—that is the essence of his answer? I think it is quite proper for members of the Opposition to put instance after instance after instance that paint a different picture. I think the Minister should have to address each of those instances, rather than just cast aside a political insult telling him he should learn how to ask different questions.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I do not agree that it was a political insult. The question was answered. There was no attack on the various contributions that were made within that report by the Minister. There was certainly a feeling that the authors were not of the same political persuasion as the Minister. That is acceptable.

Dr David Clark: To clarify—

Mr SPEAKER: No. [Interruption] Order! [Interruption] Order! Would the member please resume his seat. [Interruption] Order! Would the member please resume his seat. I have ruled on that matter. The member is now starting to challenge the Chair and debate with the Chair. That in itself will lead to gross disorder in this House. Question No. 12—Melissa Lee—[Interruption] Order! [Interruption] If I hear a further interjection from Carmel Sepuloni while I am in the Chair today, she will be leaving the Chamber. She has been consistently interjecting throughout question time in a very—[Interruption] Order! If the member wants to go now, I can make that arrangement very easily. I expect cooperation, particularly from whips, and the level of interjection that has been coming from Carmel Sepuloni throughout question time is unacceptable. When I rise to my feet, for those interjections still to continue is just not acceptable to this House.

 

Labour’s ‘fresh approach’ on mental health

Labour has announced policy on trying to deal with difficult mental health issues.


Fresh approach on mental health

Labour will introduce a pilot scheme of specialist mental health teams across the country in government to ensure swifter and more effective treatment for those who need urgent help, says Labour’s Leader Andrew Little.

“Mental health is in crisis. It needs a fresh approach so we can make a difference quickly because what we’re doing now just isn’t working.

“This is something you can’t put a bandage on and a Labour Government will make it a priority to better equip our health system to cater for those crying out for help.

“Health professionals and those needing treatment tell us it’s hard to find the front door to access mental health services. The present service is over-stretched and fragmented with little co-ordination of the care people need.

“What the new mental health teams will do is offer free, accessible help for those in need and ensure their care is co-ordinated and effective.

“One in six New Zealanders will be diagnosed with a mental health problem in their lifetime. There’s been a 60 per cent increase in Kiwis accessing mental health treatment since National came to power but spending on this sector has only increased by 28 per cent.

“A quarter of all suicides are people who have been in contact with mental health services in the past month.

“Under the two year pilot specialist mental health teams will operate from eight sites across the country and work with doctors, NGOs and District Health Boards. One of the sites will be in Christchurch reflecting the city’s particular needs.

“We expect the teams will be able to help nearly 40,000 people each year at a cost of $43 million over the pilot.

“This is a small investment that we’re confident will make a big difference to those who struggle today to access the services they need. It will be funded through Labour’s budgeted commitment to reversing National’s $1.7 billion of health cuts and is in addition to Labour’s review of the mental health system.

“We believe early intervention and continuing care will help people avoid significant mental health distress and better assist them to live their lives to their fullest. It’s the right thing to do,” says Andrew Little.


This is a timely policy announcement by Labour given Health Minister Jonathan Coleman’s reaction to a mental health report.

The Spinoff: Jonathan Coleman’s attack on ‘anti-government’ ActionStation is a smokescreen. And it’s nonsense

The minister of health has dismissed a report on mental health claiming the authors are ‘left-wing anti-government protesters’. ActionStation’s Marianne Elliott responds.

You know the saying: ‘Don’t shoot the messenger’?

Well, the message is that New Zealanders are deeply concerned about the state of our mental health system, and heartbroken about the family and friends we lose to suicide every year. We’re just the messengers.

The “we” in that sentence is the ActionStation community of everyday New Zealanders, hundreds of whom shared their stories with the People’s Mental Health Review, and 12,800 more who added their names to an open letter asking the government to consider the findings of that review.

So when the minister of health, Dr Jonathan Coleman, dismissed the recommendations of the People’s Mental Health Report on Tuesday because “the people behind the report” were “left-wing anti-government protesters”, that is who he was dismissing.

Attacking the messenger is a classic diversionary tactic when you don’t want to face up to the message itself.

That’s how it looks – not good for Coleman.

Coleman needs to ditch the reactionary petulance and be seen be genuinely dealing with obvious mental health care shortcomings and difficulties. Otherwise voters may choose to go with Labour’s approach.

I’ve always been aware that ActionStation has some close connections with the Greens, and their regular petitions can seem a bit pointless and easy to ignore, but their mental health report was much more substantial and pertinent to current difficulties many people face.

And this from Parliament doesn’t help the metal health debate either: Clark v Coleman on mental health funding

First DHB funded Sativex

A post from MZaNZ:

BREAKING NEWS: First Patient in NZ Successfully funded for Sativex by DHB

A woman who may have otherwise died from her regular severe seizures has been granted approval for medical marijuana funding.

Alisha Butt, 20, has the mentality of a toddler and is unable to speak.

Her seizures had presented a huge problem for specialists who were unable to adequately treat her, leading to the possibility she could end up in a coma from one and die.

But thanks to medicinal marijuana extract Sativex, Alisha is able to live a more comfortable life.

“Since being on Sativex for over 4 months, she has shown a great improvement,” mum Sushila Butt said.

“Her seizures have decreased immensely and now, after long last, Alisha has been able to enjoy a better quality of life without the disturbance of erratic and continuous prolonged seizures.”

A big relief to see a significant improvement.

Then, in September, Alisha was approved by the minister of Health to receive Sativex – which contains Cannabidiol with Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the main psychoactive component of cannabis – but the family had to fund the $1000-a-month treatment themselves.

It wasn’t until January 22 that the Government agreed to fund the medicinal marijuana as a prescription.

“It’s completely covered now,” Sushila said. “It will be fully funded for my daughter.

A funding breakthrough. Until now Sativex wasn’t funded and was costing something like $1000 per month, too much for many parents.

Full post at MCaNZ:
http://mcadvocacynz.org/2016/01/28/breaking-news-first-patient-in-nz-successfully-funded-for-sativex/

“Teen in coma for 57 days needs legal access to cannabis oil”

Seven Sharp had an item on Alex Renton, the 19 year old who had a major seizure and has been in a coma in Wellington Hospital for 57 days. So far treatment has been unsuccessful, and his life is at risk.

His family want to be able to try using cannabis oil (CBD) which has been successful in reducing seizures in some cases.

Today, two weeks after a recommendation from Alex’s neurologist that CBD be tried, the Wellington DHB has put in an application with the Minister of Health requesting approval to be able to use it.

TVNZ News only seems to have this available online via this video; “Teen in coma for 57 days needs legal access to cannabis oil”

Mike Hosking: On a day where we found out that the courts weren’t in a position to help Lecretia Seales, what did the judge say, it’s really only Parliament’s job who can do that, we want to introduce you to a young man who has a similar vexed battle on his hands.

Nineteen year old Alex Renton, he’s been in a coma for fifty seven days with a mystery illness.

Nadine: The drugs haven’t fixed him but his family is holding out hope, because they believe Alex’s saviour could be cannabis oil. Problem is it’s illegal. So could a law change in this case save a life?

It’s use is allowed with the approval of the Minister of Health, according to the NZ Drug Foundation:

@PeteDGeorge @metiria The law doesn’t actually need changing. The minister right now could simply give approval… if he/she wishes.

Jehancasinader: (voice over video of his family celebrating Alex’s birthday in hospital):  Alex never expected to celebrate his nineteenth birthday in a coma. The pair of shows a present from Mum, for the day she hopes he’ll walk out of here.

Alex was as fit as a fiddle, until one seizure tipped his life upside down.

Alex’s doctors are stumped, their diagnosis uncertain. Meanwhile his brain is inflamed, and rocked by constant seizures.

Alex’s family believes there’s one last hope.  Cannabis. It’s illegal of course, but advocates say the oil can fire up neurons in the brain.

Rose (Alex’s mother): We’ve been offered the oil from overseas, clinically tested oil.

The oil is extracted from special strains of the cannabis plant that are very low in the intoxicant THC.

Jehancasinader: Last year we showed you how desperate Aussie families have relied on it to save their kids lives. It needs special approval. Rose says hospital officials are dragging the chain.

Rose: They seem to be frightened.

Jehancasinader: Until now Rose says drugs haven’t been a part of Alex’s life.

Rose: This isn’t about recreational marijuana, this is about medicine.

Jehancasinader:  Now Alex is being given Ketamine.

Rose: They choose to pour chemicals into him, but they will not choose a natural herb extract.

Jehancasinader: Rose believes time is running out for her boy.

Rose: A petition of twenty five thousand people have supported this treatment for Alex, and still we wait, he waits, because one hospital thinks they know better.

Mike Hosking: Jeez it’s been a tough day in so many respects hasn’t it Jehan, even to you, you’re with us live, just tell us how is Alex doing and what seems to be the hold up, what seems to be the problem here.

Jehancasinader: Well Mike I visited Alex here at Wellington Hospital late last night with his Mum. It was pretty tough actually seeing him lying in that bed unable to move and unable to talk.

Now you heard Rose saying that story that she believes the hospital has been dragging the chain on this, and we have the proof tonight.

The Ministry of Health says that it still hasn’t even received an application from the hospital for this cannabis treatment to be given to Alex.

Now this is two whole weeks after the neurologist said look we really need to look at this as an option. He is deteriorating.

Now within the past hour I finally heard from the DHB and they’ve confirmed that today they’ve decided to put that application in to the Minister of Health. He will have the final say on whether the cannabis treatment is granted and meanwhile Alex is spending his fifty seventh night in that hospital behind me.

Associate Minister of Health Peter Dunne will now have responsibility for this decision.