The following letter was sent to all political parties. National and Act did not respond.
Dear political parties and candidates,
As families who have lost loved ones to suicide, we know a bit about courage. We’ve had to ask ourselves difficult, uncomfortable questions.
We need you to have courage too. We need you to ask difficult questions about our mental health system. You’ll need the courage to put aside politics and do what is right for every Kiwi.
We write to ask you to support the YesWeCare.nz coalition’s six election pledges to ensure every Kiwi gets the care they need, when they need it:
Set a suicide reduction target
Set a suicide reduction target taking into account the World Health Organisation’s recommendation of 10% by 2020.
NZ has the highest youth suicide rates in the OECD. 579 people died by suicide in 2015/2016. Nothing will change without a clear, measurable target to give focus and accountability. A goal gives hope. If we don’t have a clear target how will we ever achieve our aspiration of zero suicides? The Ministry of Health’s Independent Suicide Prevention Advisory panel recommended one. So did the Director of Mental Health. Health Minister Jonathan Coleman
Hold a mental health inquiry
Hold an independent mental health inquiry in the first 100 days of the new Government, and commit to fund what it identifies as needed.
77% of Kiwis support an independent inquiry into mental health service. We need to know how an emergency department can release a teenager who says they want to kill themselves? Or why children have to wait three months for an eating disorder appointment, but the Ministry says this doesn’t happen? Or how the Government says staffing is sufficient when nine out of 10 people working in health feel understaffed
Restore $2.3b in health funding
Restore $2.3b of health funding to cover unmet annual health costs, commit to increased costs annually, and fund a national survey on unmet need.
The Senior Doctors’ association (ASMS) and Council of Trade Unions say the Government has underfunded health by $2.3b. Funding hasn’t kept up with our ageing and growing population, increased mental health needs, inflation, wages and new medicines. This mean’s we haven’t been able to maintain our current inadequate levels of service. In mental health this has resulted in delays which can, and have been, deadly. The mantra “do more with less” has become “do less with less”.
Increase primary health, GP funding
Significantly increase primary health funding to bring down GP and primary health costs, including therapies and other mental health needs.
One in six Kiwis can’t afford a GP. We have the worst access to equitable primary health, second only to the United States. The little primary mental health services that exist are inadequate. Only a limited amount of free therapy sessions are available and waiting lists are long. Most can’t afford to go private and go without.
Commit to safe staffing
Commit to evidence-based safe staffing to ensure patient safety and quality care.
Nine in 10 people working in health feel understaffed. People working in health do the best they can with what they’ve got, but they’re stretched and many feel burnt out. 70% feel their workload or work pressure is unreasonable. Unrealistic caseloads and fatigued health workers jeopardise patient safety. Understaffing reduces the ability to provide the level of care people need. Mental health staff often work 16 hour shifts to cover for vacancies.
Make every home healthy
Require landlords to make their rentals warm and dry, and subsidise low-income homeowners to achieve the same for their homes.
Having a healthy place to live is key to physical and mental well-being. Yet 40,000 children in New Zealand are admitted to hospital every year from preventable illnesses linked to poverty and unhealthy homes. Homes should much us feel safe and loved, not sick.
(We shouldn’t even have to ask for the first pledge.)
Don’t let other families go through what we have
As politicians, you can make a real difference to Kiwis when they are most vulnerable. Like any mental health issue, there are three steps to getting help. You need to acknowledge we have a mental health crisis, provide us support and do something about it. Don’t get stuck at the first stage, have the courage to take every step. Suicide is preventable and good policy is key.
Taking no action leaves the responsibility on the bereaved, service-users and their families, and a stretched workforce. We’ve already got enough to deal with.
There is hope. We believe working with you collaboratively is an important part of our healing process.
Corinda Taylor, mother of Ross, 20
Maria Dillon, mother of Harry, 18
Patrice Harrex, mother of Brad, 25
On behalf of bereaved families in the YesWeCare.nz coalition.
All political parties agreed to our pledge except National and Act who didn’t respond to this letter.
The following organisations support this open letter:
Ambulance Professionals First / First Union
Council of Trade Unions
Life Matters Suicide Prevention trust
Maternal Care Action Network
New Zealand Nurses Organisation
Parents of Children With Additional Needs (POCAN)
Peoples’ Mental Heatlh Review
Public Service Association
Tertiary Education Union (TEU)
United Community Action Network Aotearoa NZ