Hudak mental health white paper ignores existing national and provincial strategies

Earlier this week we were told that the Hudak PC’s were going to release a White Paper on Mental Health this Thursday.

While the paper is still not up on the PC website (as of Friday morning), the news media have suggested that the paper is primarily about building access to services for children and youth.

Wait a minute here – isn’t that exactly what Deb Matthews has been doing?

The headlines have so far been about a small percentage of children that are being treated out of country, amounting to about $5 million on a health budget of $47 billion. In fact, out of province treatments have been shrinking in recent years as Matthews and her predecessors at the Health Ministry have repatriated a number of health services, including increasing local access to bariatric surgery.

It’s not like we haven’t had any good advice about where to drive mental health.

After waiting years for the province’s 10-year mental health strategy, we instead got taken in by a bait and switch and ended up with a three-year plan around mental health for children and youth.

Has everyone forgotten, including MPP Christine Elliott, that all thee parties signed on to an all-party select committee report in 2010 that called for a series of actions, including creating Mental Health Ontario, a kind of Cancer Care Ontario clone that would drive both coordination and access to mental health care? That report also called for an assessment of the complete basket of mental health services in each region.

Has everyone forgotten that just last year that the Mental Health Commission of Canada released its own long anticipated national mental health strategy, that among other things, called for an increase in percentage funding that mental health should occupy?

Children and youth eventually become adults, and while we get it that early detection and treatment is a smart move, the reality is that mental health services for adults are struggling in this province.

We reported last week that the former Kingston Psychiatric Hospital is shedding 60 beds en route to its merger with St. Marys Of The Lake. While beds have been redistributed from Regional Mental Health London-St. Thomas, there are still about 70 beds missing when the new privately developed replacement facilities open there in 2014-15.

While the province likes to talk about services moving to the community, there are examples where these services are also on the chopping block. The latest battle is over keeping the West Toronto Community Legal Services clinic open. The service is best known for covering legal issues, housing and mental health support particularly to Toronto’s homeless community (a petition is on OPSEU’s main site). The clinic serves 1,500 homeless persons per year. Legal Aid Ontario is threatening to stop funding the clinic at the end of this fiscal year (March 31).

Health Minister Deb Matthews must have been amused over the content of the Tories mental health paper. She told the Canadian Press earlier this week that they are already doing “everything” the Tories are calling for in their paper.

While the Tories have borrowed “liberally” for their white papers from Don Drummond’s often contradictory recommendations, they really leave us wondering why they couldn’t have even looked at the all-party committee report they endorsed a little over two years ago for guidance on policy, or the strategy put forward under the sponsorship of their federal cousins.

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