Monday, June 7, 2010

MENTAL HEALTH AUDIT



An editorial published in today's edition of The Chronicle Herald:
Slippery standards

NOVA Scotia has long pointed out that it’s the only province in Canada with mental health standards.

And yes, adopting those standards in 2003 was certainly a laudable step towards improving mental health services in this province.

Having standards on paper, however, is one thing. Ensuring they’re being complied with, or, more basically, seeking sufficient funding to do so, is another.

The problem, as Auditor General Jacques Lapointe’s 2010 review of mental health services makes painfully clear, is that the Department of Health seems to have done neither.

Mr. Lapointe was unable to assess whether the department had even asked for the money to meet the standards — an estimated $23.5 million — as the department, following instructions from cabinet officials, denied him access to budgetary requests and possible departmental plans to improve accountability.

This is the same problem that led Mr. Lapointe to criticize the government’s "pervasive policy of secrecy" that prevented him from even auditing Nova Scotia Business Inc. and the Industrial Expansion Fund (IEF).

What the auditor general did uncover, looking at mental health standards and services, showed there’s lots of room for improvement.

The four health authorities audited in depth — Capital Health, Colchester East Hants, Annapolis Valley and IWK Health Centre — met all the standards selected for review in just 14 per cent of 388 files.

Meanwhile, some standards were so poorly written that staff at the DHAs were asking the auditor general’s staff for help in interpreting compliance.

Mr. Lapointe also found no way to compare waiting times for mental health outpatients, the only category tracked, across the province. That meant the department was also unable to do so, he added. Not surprisingly, Mr. Lapointe concluded that mental health patient care could be suffering as a result of these problems.

The Department of Health says a new mental health strategy, along with a plan to address meeting the standards, is to begin this fall.

The auditor general has certainly laid out, in convincing detail, just how this needs to be done.

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