National leader Simon Bridges slams Govt's 'stealth cuts'

The AM Show 16/07/2018

National Party leader Simon Bridges has slammed the Government for scrapping a plan to help police deal with callouts involving mentally ill people. 

He criticised the Government for ending a plan to send mental health workers alongside emergency services out with police, and for quietly ending extra funding for cochlear implants in early July, despite a successful campaign for publicly funded devices for every New Zealander who needed one. 

"I just think you've got a lot of stealth cuts. We saw it last week with cochlear implants. We don't get announcements on this - it just happens," he told The AM Show on Monday. "My question is: how many more of these cuts will there be?"

Mr Bridges was scathing about police having to dump their proposal to send mental health workers on crisis callouts after the Government said it's relocating its funding. National announced last year an $8 million trial for the new approach, part of its $100 million programme of 17 evidence-based initiatives.

But Mr Clark has said the idea "was never fully developed". In a statement, he said it "appears the proposal, along with most of the other 16 floated at the time, was hurriedly cobbled together amid growing public concerns about the situation in mental health in this country." 

Mr Clark says he recognises the need to improve the response to 111 mental health callouts, but believes those suffering from mental health issues should get the help they need before that point.

A ministerial inquiry into mental health was announced by Mr Clark in January with a report due to be released in October about the findings. But Mr Bridges says the Government keeps giving mixed messages about its priorities. 

"It's stealth cuts we're seeing. The great tragedy of all this is that Labour comes in talking a big game on mental health, but they are actually investing less new money than we were."

Police said the Government has "re-allocated" the funding to other health sector priorities. The proposal, released under the Official Information Act last year, said police were "increasingly acting as first responders to people who should more appropriately receive a mental health response". 

Mr Bridges said parents with a violent teen don't want a police officer showing up being "heavy-handed". Instead, they would want a mental health worker to show up who can help the situation. 

Police said mentally impaired people "are not always dealt with by police in a manner that is conducive to their mental and physical well-being, increasing their distress and placing them at greater risk of harm while in police custody."

Watch the full interview above.

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