UK specialists hired to staff new $13m mental health unit
Specialist staff have been recruited from the UK to help run a new mental health and developmental disability unit in Porirua as Health Minister Andrew Little has acknowledged difficulties in filling vacancies in the health sector .
Little on Tuesday opened the purpose-built six-bed facility called Manawai on the Rātonga-Rua-O-Porirua campus, an extension of the existing Haumietiketike unit near Kenepuru Community Hospital.
Four people have already been approved for treatment at the facility, which caters for people with mental illness and developmental disabilities. The center received $13.3 million in funding in Budget 2018, providing support for some of the “most seriously ill people” across the country.
“These are people who have engaged in behavior that may be high risk to themselves and others, so they need long-term care and rehabilitation in a safe setting,” Little said in a statement.
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Paul Oxnam, executive clinical director for mental health in the Wellington region, said British staff were needed in Manawai because there was no specialist training pipeline for this area of health in New Zealand.
“Typically the [local] the people who work in our services come from a mental health background, and we provide the additional training they need to work in this specialist area, so a large proportion of our staff must come from overseas, from the UK United,” Oxnam said.
The facility had enough staff “to get going and start taking care of the people who are here,” Little said, but added that he “wasn’t sure” if Manawai was “full.”
Little has repeatedly refused to call New Zealand’s healthcare worker shortage a ‘crisis’, despite increasingly panicked warnings from frontline nurses and doctors.
Oxnam said recruiting overseas workers was not straightforward.
“It takes a long time to bring people here from the UK, and also to help them adjust to New Zealand’s culture and way of working,” he said. “But it’s the nature of working in a really specialized field like this, where the people who use our services need a really expert and high level of care.”
As Manawai’s opening was touted as a ‘significant step’ in investing in the future of mental health, Little acknowledged the challenges in getting staff to fill vacancies in the health sector. at large.
“It’s a fiercely competitive area around the world…but we’re doing everything we can to increase revenue, to help with recruitment and retention, and we still have a ways to go.”
Little said the government had added “about 4,000 nurses to the public health system over the past five years”, but acknowledged there were still vacancies and work was underway to fill those positions.
Wellington’s forensic mental health units have been heavily criticized in a series of reports by Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier, who described conditions as ‘cruel and inhumane’ following inspections at Haumietiketike and in three units at Rātonga-Rua-O-Porirua.
In June 2021, the government revealed that it had only spent 6% ($24.9 million) of the $438.3 million it set aside in the 2018 and 2019 budgets for construction and renovation mental health institutions.
At the time, Little was expressing frustration with the lengthy planning phase of acute mental health care.
Philanthropists Mark Dunajtschik and Dorothy Spotswood, who have previously donated $50 million to Wellington Children’s Hospital, said this month they would donate the same amount to build a mental health unit in Lower Hutt .
The money will be used to fund a new 34-bed adult mental health facility on the Hutt Hospital campus.
The Mark Dunajtschik Mental Health Center will replace the 24-bed Te Whare Ahuru – an existing facility on the hospital campus – adding ten additional beds for mental health patients.