The provincial auditor’s report released last week further clarified the challenges facing Saskatchewan patients in accessing mental health care, stating that “long waits can lead to people’s conditions getting worse, and in some cases, waits can even contribute to death.”
Psychiatrist Sarah Dungavell, who practices in La Ronge and Saskatoon, says that “waitlists across the province remain too high and my colleagues and I are unable to see patients soon enough.”
With the Sask. Party government failing to take significant action to address this issue, the NDP is stepping forward to propose concrete, evidence-based initiatives to increase mental health care supports and promote better outcomes.
“The mental health needs throughout the province are urgent,” said NDP Leader Ryan Meili. “We’re calling for a number of simple solutions that can improve the lives of our friends and neighbours struggling with mental health challenges. Investing in mental health services improves lives and leads to significant downstream savings. It’s the right thing and the smart thing to do.”
Meili is calling for a number of initiatives that would help address the challenges people face when trying to get the care they need:
- An increase in the health budget for mental health from the current five per cent to at least the national average of seven per cent, as promised by the premier during his run for leadership, but not delivered in the 2018/19 budget;
- Hiring of additional mental health support staff like psychiatric nurses, psychologists and social workers and increasing availability of publicly-funded counselling services;
- Supports for crisis intervention, including adequate funding for the mental health ER in Saskatoon, and the introduction of more such facilities in other communities;
- Expanding addictions supports, with special attention to crystal meth and fentanyl;
- Provincial involvement in the proposed Lac La Ronge Indian Band wellness centre;
- The development of a province-wide suicide prevention strategy that works alongside that being developed by the FSIN.
“We have heard the Sask. Party talk about supporting mental health, but what we need them to do is to take meaningful action,” said NDP Health Critic Danielle Chartier. “Far too many people are suffering and can’t get proper access to care. We’ve heard from families and mental health professionals that solutions – not just talk – are urgently needed.”