A Wellington youth clinic that offers free doctor’s appointments, mental and sexual health services and support for homeless teens has been forced to turn away 500 young people in need since January.
Evolve has closed its books to new patients because it is struggling to cope with the numbers of young people in need, manager Kirsten Smith said.
Patients aged 10 to 24 are eligible to use Evolve, which received 13,000 visits last year and had to stop taking in newcomers by December.
The Capital & Coast District Health Board (CCDHB) is considering a proposal to expand Evolve’s services. It confirmed a decision will be made by the end of this month.
* Clean towels and soap: Facebook plea sheds light on homeless youth
* Review into Hutt mental health: schools left to deal with students awaiting help
* Few schools ‘well-placed’ to support students’ mental health issues, report shows
* Mental health campaigner wants to shake up mental health education in schools
About 1000 of Evolve’s patients are enrolled, while the remaining 3000 are casuals.
Smith said it pained her staff to turn young people away.
“There’s been a lot of encouraging of young people to ask for help if they need it so a lot of young people are asking for help and, unfortunately, services across the board are unable to keep up with the level of demand.”
Evolve employs 24 staff, including three part-time GPs, in its space in the old James Smiths building on Manners St.
Smith said the service was popular with Wellington teens as many felt they could not see their family doctor without their parents attending the appointment. Some feared their GP would pass on what was said in private visits, even though such breaches were very rare, Smith said.
Some of Evolve’s patients came from abusive homes or were not allowed to make their own health decisions due to their family’s religion.
Since closing its books, Evolve has been referring homeless youths to social services and urging other prospective patients to see GPs if they can afford it, as well as use sexual health clinics’ services.
Smith estimated that at any one time there were about 20 homeless youths in Wellington.
“It’s a range of things – mental health, got pregnant, got kicked out of home – lots have been in Child, Youth and Family care.”
The service was seeing huge numbers of teens experiencing depression and anxiety and had noted many were having trouble finding work and accommodation in the capital, Smith said.
On Monday it was revealed many youths were waiting longer than eight weeks to see mental health services, including more than a third of under-19s in Hutt Valley DHB, which is undertaking an external review.
CCDHB planning and funding child and population manager Taima Fagaloa said Evolve was an important service for young Wellingtonians.
“We value the work that Evolve does and have been working with them to look at how they might be able to resume taking on new patients and expand their service.”
Green Party health spokeswoman Julie Anne Genter said youth health services were desperately underfunded, urging the Government to support “fantastic” Evolve.
“Healthcare for our young people shouldn’t be treated as a nice-to-have; it is critical that our young people have all their health needs met, including mental and sexual health.”