Mental health

No province-wide mental health plan, says auditor general

Wait times and eligibility standards vary across Nova Scotia

Auditor General Michael Pickup announces the findings of his report Wednesday in Halifax.   Taylor McCuaig

Nova Scotia’s auditor general says no progress has been made on recommendations from a 2010 audit of mental health services, and that the Nova Scotia Health Authority and Department of Health and Wellness still don’t have a provincial mental health plan.

At a media conference Wednesday, Auditor General Michael Pickup said when it comes to wait times and information, “Standards are not applied consistently, nor are they evaluated.”  

He said that people waiting for mental health services are automatically classified on the wait list as “regular” without a system to identify urgent and semi-urgent cases.

Pickup’s report, released earlier Wednesday, addressed three areas for improvement in health care, including mental health services. He found that the Health Authority and the health department did not meet its March 2016 deadline for a province-wide plan.

In addition, he reports that the health authority is inconsistent in the implementation of its approach to mental health care, so people in different parts of the province experience different wait times and face different criteria for being put on the wait list.

“They need to tell people what they’re waiting for, and how long that is going to be,” said Pickup.

In his report, Pickup says the Dartmouth General Hospital does not have a “crisis response or psychiatry on-site” despite having the 4th busiest emergency room in Nova Scotia. Patients with mental health care needs at the Dartmouth hospital have to be transferred to another hospital for psychiatric service.

Pickup recommended that they finish developing policies for emergency mental health services and develop a provincial approach to service delivery.

The health authority has accepted all nine recommendations from the mental health services report, saying its goal is to have a plan ready by early 2018.

Randy Delorey, minister of health and wellness, said he’s aware of challenges throughout the system, but he wouldn’t answer questions about whether he was satisfied with the pace of progress.

He highlighted some successes, like merging addiction services with mental health to address overlapping health concerns.

“The investments we’re making are important. We’re moving forward, we do recognize it as an important part of our health-care system,” said Delorey.

Delorey said the province is addressing the connection between youth mental health and drug addiction in adults. The provincial and federal governments together have invested $8 million in mental health services, with $5 million going to youth services, he noted.

NDP Leader Gary Burrill said he thinks the government doesn’t have a comprehensive health plan, and amalgamating formerly separate health authorities wasn’t the answer.

“I think it is unfair and incoherent that we should have such disparate inequities in access to mental health care in Nova Scotia,” said Burrill.

For example, he noted, the wait times for mental health services in places like Yarmouth are longer than in Halifax.

“This is no way to run a provincial health system,” said Burrill.