Social work practice implications of upcoming mental health reforms


  • Genevieve Smith Registered Social Worker, Auckland New Zealand
  • Joanna Appleby University of Auckland, New Zealand



mental health, mental health reform, mental health social work


The Labour-led Government has recently announced new healthcare reforms in Aotearoa New Zealand. The four changes are:

  • The current 20 District Health Boards (DHBs) across the country will be replaced by one national organisation, Health New Zealand.
  • A new Māori Health Authority will have the power to commission health services, monitor the state of Māori health and develop policy
  • New Public Health Agency will be created
  • Strengthened Ministry of Health will monitor performance and advise government

As a teaser before the announcement, the country was informed that the reforms would be about equity and access. We, thewriters, are both Pākehā mental health social workers and we were eagerly awaiting news of the reforms. We have reflected on the current problems facing the mental health sector, speculated on how these may be addressed through system reform, and discussed our hopes for a better system.

Based on our experience working within and alongside different DHB mental health services in the country we identified four major sector problems. These are the increasing demand and severity of presenting problems, the associated shifting goalposts of accessibility to manage demand, service variability between regions and issues of staff workload, and training and retention. As social workers, we have seen the impact of these issues upon multi-stressed families seeking support and we hope for reforms to address these equity issues.


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How to Cite

Smith, G., & Appleby, J. (2021). Social work practice implications of upcoming mental health reforms. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 33(2), 61–65.