This week I presented to Parliament the 4,500 signature petition opposing the closure of Nelson’s Nikau House. This community centre has provided valuable support for people with mental health challenges for over 30 years.
I was shocked to hear of the closure at the Nelson Market on June 6 through leaked documents from a concerned citizen that I chose to make public. It was naive of the District Health Board to think it could close such an iconic facility without any public consultation nor any clear plan on what would replace it. The explanation that the Covid-19 lockdown showed people could cope without Nikau House was unfair. The claim it duplicates other services is incorrect.
It has been a joy to get to know Daniel Timms, a client of Nikau House, who has been bravely leading the charge opposing closure. Daniel has been very open with his struggle with mental health, the time in and out of hospitals all over New Zealand and multiple suicide attempts. He rates Nikau House as one of the best services he has had and a life saver. He loves the continuity of staff that have got to know his needs. He likes that he can drop in when he needs support rather than waiting weeks for an appointment. He also finds the mutual support of others suffering mental illness invaluable.
I hosted a public meeting in Nelson earlier this month on Nikau House with National’s Mental Health Spokesperson Matt Doocey MP, a former mental health professional. Matt led the work establishing the cross party parliamentary group on mental health last year.
The message at that meeting of support for Nikau House was universal from clients, families and mental health professionals. Matt made the commitment that National would require the District Health Board to keep Nikau House open.
Matt asked a straight forward question of Labour Health Minister Chris Hipkins, “Does the Minister believe that Nelson’s Nikau House should stay open?” He dodged the question and said it was up to the DHB. The Minister could easily use his powers to halt the closure if he chose.
I am at loss as to how closing Nikau House is consistent with the Government’s commitment to improving mental health services or the recent Mental Health Inquiry. Nelson has seen none of the $1900 million nationally promised for mental health. Nor has Nelson seen any of the hundreds of community mental health nurses in GP clinics promised for this year.
I was shocked to find out through my parliamentary questions of 25% cuts in other mental health services at Nelson Marlborough Health. The number of clinical psychologists has been cut since 2017 from 24 to 19 and consultant psychiatrists from 11 to 8. Waiting times to see these specialists have blown out from weeks to months.
The demand for mental health services is growing worldwide. It is only going to get worse with the financial and unemployment problems from Covid-19. We must keep up the fight to save Nikau House.