Mike King at parliament to return his NZOM medal in protest (Radio NZ, Dom Thomas)

The Bulletin: Despite more money, mental health facilities still in crisis

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Mental health facilities still in crisis, government expert warns of years of Covid restrictions, and ACC biased against women and ethnic minorities.

Often when discussing mental health services, a very broad brush can be taken. So to start discussing the crisis in mental health facilities at the moment, it’s worth looking closely at the work of a journalist who has brought up very specific examples of things not being up to scratch. Writing on Newsroom, freelancer Oliver Lewis has published a series of stories that both outline and detail how this crisis is playing out. For example:

  • An overcrowded unit was found by the chief ombudsman to have breached torture conventions, amid a wider crunch in bed space.
  • Four Auckland mental health units were found to have black mould and weather-tightness issues, creating further health risks.
  • In-patient units have a culture of “meds and beds“, rather than providing a more holistic and stimulating environment.

The story that broke last night about mental health facilities underlined how big spending announcements may not be filtering through to actual service delivery. Newshub’s Jenna Lynch reports that since $1.9bn was announced in 2019, only five new acute mental health beds have been added around the country. Much of the story focused around one patient in Taranaki, who was put on a mattress on the floor of a lounge, because all the beds were taken. She told Newshub that she hadn’t seen any evidence of the money making its way into services – note that is just one person’s opinion, but it is a person who has seen this end of the system up close.

Meanwhile heavy criticism of the government’s performance in this area continues from former comedian and mental health advocate Mike King. The NZ Herald reports he recently returned his New Zealand Order of Merit medal – awarded because of his mental health work – on the grounds that work on fixing the system wasn’t apparent. He said the 2019 announcement made him feel genuinely hopeful at the time, but not any more: “There was such a euphoric feeling in the air, full of optimism and hope and I believed with all my heart things were about to change, finally we had a Government who cared. Three years on I feel like we have let everybody down.”


The government’s Covid fixer Sir Brian Roche has warned that another 2-5 years of restrictions are likely in some form, including at the border. Stuff’s Thomas Manch reports the comments came around a wider discussion of the group Sir Brian leads, which has been set up to advise on the response but is yet to provide any “real time” advice to ministers. The group has prepared a report into the Valentine’s Day cluster, finding no major failings, but saying communication with the public could have been simpler.


New self-analysis from ACC has shown the agency has biases against women, Māori, and Pasifika people, reports Anusha Bradley for Radio NZ. All of those groups are less likely to have claims approved by ACC, with the “decline rates” for claims rising. One issue on the gender iniquities is that the types of injuries more likely to be sustained by men are more likely to be covered. Along with that, the ACC briefing to the minister included research that shows women and ethnic minorities “are all more likely to be seen as exaggerating, malingering or drug-seeking when accessing healthcare,” suggesting biases exist well beyond just ACC.


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An announcement shouldn’t be too far away on the shape of the entities that will govern New Zealand’s three-waters systems. But as Newsroom’s Jonathan Milne reports, there could be a regional revolt, with Whangārei threatening to refuse to participate. Other councils are also making ominous rumblings about doing the same. The MOUs signed by councils with the central government last year – which got the whole process in motion – are expiring soon, and if there are pull-outs it will be fascinating to see how hard central government pushes back.


GP services in the Wairarapa are almost at capacity, with 5 out of 7 clinics not taking any new patients, reports Soumya Bhamidipati for the Times-Age. The waiting list for two clinics in Masterton is 300 people long, though some may be double-ups. A major aspect of the problem is that rural and provincial areas struggle to find enough medical professionals to work in them, along with challenges around getting people with these skills into the country.


A fascinating interview with a politician who was an integral part of two governments: Q+A did a long form piece on Sir Michael Cullen, who was most well known as the finance minister under PM Helen Clark. But his career also spanned a whole generation of political change, from Rogernomics through to all that came after it. Sir Michael is suffering from terminal cancer, and has just released a memoir, and I think we can be very grateful that he’s chosen to make this contribution to the historical record.


Got some feedback about The Bulletin, or anything in the news? Get in touch with me at thebulletin@thespinoff.co.nz

Andy Foster and the plan for Wellington. Photos: Getty & RNZ

Right now on The Spinoff: Lobbyist and urbanist advocate Neale Jones writes about the Wellington spatial plan battle, and how it has been captured by NIMBYs.Josh van Veen went to the NZ First conference to see a party that refuses to go quietly. Ollie Neas reports on a protest at Rocket Lab’s HQ over their ties to the US military.Russell Brown meets some of the people who make NZ Post’s delivery network possible. And RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under winner Kita Mean stops by The Real Pod to reflect on her journey to the crown.


For a feature today, an exploration of the complexities around Māori wards, and why it isn’t necessarily a clear-cut or easy decision for councils. Local Democracy Reporter Felix Desmarais has canvassed the views of several councillors in Rotorua, which has just decided to bring in a Māori ward for the next election. Here’s an excerpt from the comments of Tania Tapsell, a high-profile Māori councillor and former National party candidate who voted against:

She says voting against Māori wards has been “quite hard”, given the room was filled with Te Arawa people who wanted them. She believed many of those people respected her for standing up for what she believed in. “I’m not here to be liked, I’m here to make a difference and to make the right decision.”

She says she hasn’t received “a single bad message” about her vote. She is happy with her decision and not worried about it impacting the polls at next year’s local election. “When the problem to others was ‘we need to guarantee a seat for Māori at the table’ … actually that question we should be asking is how do we ensure that mana whenua are there.

“We’re trying to do this to have fair representation, to acknowledge Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and if we’re truly doing that, then we should be doing it in a way that represents mana whenua.”


There was no test cricket played last night due to rain, but it did allow the plucky underdog sport of rugby to get a bit of the limelight for once. That came in the form of an All Blacks team announcement, for upcoming matches against Fiji and Tonga. Stuff’s Richard Knowler has run the ruler over the squad, which will be captained by Sam Whitelock, assessing what it says about who is in the frame for long-term selection.


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