Schools are having to pick up the pieces as waiting times grow for young people to get mental health appointments in the Hutt Valley, a principal says.
The Hutt Valley District Health Board has confirmed an independent external review is under way into its mental health services, as figures showed one-third of people under 19 awaiting non-urgent help waited more than eight weeks for an initial appointment in 2016. Almost two-thirds waited more than three weeks.
Other previous problem areas, such as Whanganui and Lakes – covering Rotorua and Taupo – have dramatically reduced their waiting times, but Hutt Valley’s have increased each year since 2014.
That has left schools to pick up the duty of care – but they were not equipped to deal with complex mental health problems, Naenae College principal John Russell said on Monday.
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“Schools are left nurturing and trying to keep track of those kids.”
The decile 3 school kept a “high-risk list” for its 700 students, Russell said.
“We have various review meetings throughout the week, [where] we go through maybe 30 students on the high-risk list.
“From that you would have typically six or seven on like a suicide watch. The guidance counsellor will have regular check-ins with them.”
Russell described this intensive approach as a temporary holding pattern. “These issues are a lot more complex than the students themselves … The schools are not funded or geared up to provide that.”
Nigel Fairley, manager for the 3DHB combined health service in greater Wellington, said the review was being conducted “to identify how best to meet the community’s needs and reduce wait-times”.
When asked why the waiting times had increased, Fairley said referrals had significantly increased over the past three years.
“This, and the complexity of issues families face, has contributed to longer wait-times for non-urgent cases.”
A young person referred to the service for non-urgent help would currently be offered an appointment within four weeks, he said.
Young people deemed urgent by the DHB’s Infant, Child, Adolescent and Family Service were “virtually all seen within 24 hours”.
Briefing papers to Health Minister Jonathan Coleman, requested under the Official Information Act by the Green Party, reveal Coleman highlighted the issue in the Hutt Valley a year ago.
He referenced data from the year to November 2015, when half of “non-urgent” under-19s in the district were waiting longer than three weeks.
Coleman’s handwritten scrawl read: “What are we doing to address DHBs where performance against 3-week target poor – eg Lakes, Whanganui, Hutt Valley?”
The ministry’s national director of mental health, John Crawshaw, said it had been working with those DHBs to address the concerns, and “all three DHBs have implemented remedial actions”.
But the problem had only intensified in the Hutt Valley. ”The ministry continues to monitor performance across the mental health sector to support and work with DHBs in order to identify where improvement and additional effort is required,” Crawshaw said.
Greens spokeswoman Julie Anne Genter said it was hypocritical to tell teens to ask for help when services “are not resourced to provide it”.
WAITING TIMES: WHAT THEY MEAN
* Waiting times are measured by the number of days between first point of referral and the first point of face-to-face clinical contact.
* The Ministry of Health requires DHBs to have 80 per cent of people referred for non-urgent appointments seen within three weeks, and 95 per cent within eight weeks.
* The national average in 2016 for people aged under 19 was 68 per cent within three weeks, and 90 per cent in eight weeks.