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Lifeline funding cut

Written By: - Date published: 1:10 pm, August 2nd, 2017 - 58 comments
Categories: health, national - Tags: , ,

We have the highest rate of youth suicide in the “developed” world. The Nats just cut the funding to Lifeline – Government axes $800,000 Lifeline contract

In March this year, the Ministry of Health axed a decade-long $800,000 contract for Lifeline to provide suicide-prevention training to frontline workers.

The funding cut, which was revealed to the Herald through documents provided to Labour under the Official Information Act, “devastated” Lifeline – an organisation that has worked to prevent suicide in New Zealand for more than 50 years.

The funding was shifted to a “new preferred supplier” after several contractors pitched for the work last November, a ministry official said.

News of the terminated Lifeline contract comes just days after an international expert told an Auckland conference of mental health workers – and ministry officials – that training, particularly the programme run by Lifeline, was one of the most important suicide-prevention strategies worldwide.

In the Herald today – PM’s wife on board of organisation that won million-dollar suicide prevention contract

An organisation that recently won a million-dollar government contract has dismissed speculation that the presence of the Prime Minister’s wife on the board was a factor.

It may be completely innocent as all the interested parties claim. But it’s not a good look to be destroying Lifeline, an organisation doing world class work in an area of desperate need. You don’t easily replace that experience.

58 comments on “Lifeline funding cut ”

  1. srylands 1

    And the contract with the new provider includes an increase of funding of 31.25% compared to the previous provider.

    Your post (and to be fair the story) is presenting this as a “cut” when it is an attempt to provide better services at higher volume.

    It is inconceivable that the experts that chose the new provider would have been influenced by anything other than value for money considerations.

    • McFlock 1.1

      Copy that.

      They gave it to the most aspirational bidder who happens to have no experience in the field, because corruption is inconceivable.

      • While I’m open to the possibility that there’s either corruption or simply undue influence from the Prime Minister’s spouse going on, shouldn’t we be pushing for some investigative journalism on the matter rather than simply jumping to conclusions? Especially as a pacific-centred approach in the field should be relatively welcome.

        I agree it is a little fishy however that this area is getting a significant funding increase in a period when the government is being increasingly close-fisted with NGOs.

        That said, I will go on the record as saying that assuming everything is above board, my preferred outcome would have been to split the new funding level between the existing service provider and the new one and then evaluate whether both are succeeding next year, preferably with at least the same level of funding for lifeline. There would seem to be more than enough work to justify multiple services in this area.

        • McFlock

          That’s the thing.

          I found Sryland’s rejection of corruption as “inconceivable” to be laughable, but the best case scenario is that they decided to completely change provider when the current provider seemed to be doing the job perfectly well.

          That doesn’t mean the job couldn’t be done better, but having at least one politically-highly-connected person on the board to me suggests the possibility that they got the job more because they were adept at filling in tenders with the right language.

          • AB

            Exactly – and who in their right mind would take the risk of a wholesale, one-hit change of provider in an area like this where the implications of provider failure are so truly awful?
            A pilot programme or split funding over a transition period would seem to be a minimal requirement for prudence. So if not corruption then incompetence.

            • Draco T Bastard

              and who in their right mind would take the risk of a wholesale, one-hit change of provider in an area like this where the implications of provider failure are so truly awful?


              They may be psychopaths but that doesn’t mean that they’re not in their right mind.

          • Matthew Whitehead

            Well, just like it’s absolutely fair to reject out of hand assertions that there’s no way it could be corruption or improper influence, I think it’s also reasonable to point out that there is a certain level of hubris to assuming that Le Va couldn’t possibly have convinced the panel that they could do a better job than lifeline on their merits. (it also starts straying into potentially problematic racial territory as well given that this will be the first real spotlight on pacific mental health in quite some time) I know that’s not what you’re saying, but some people are and I think it’s reasonable to just stick to “this smells a little and deserves a real investigation,” either an official inquiry or simply sicking an investigative journalist on it.

            And if your suggestion is right, btw, it’s sorta hard to say that boards should ignore someone submitting a better application because they might simply have been walked through it by someone with institutional knowledge- you’re sort of expected to have basic knowledge of how to fill out a tender in the first place, and beyond that panels are supposed to consider the merits of each proposal not simply whether they use the right buzzwords, so it shouldn’t be that easy to persuade them if they’re truly independent experts. This is why I would really like to hear someone interview the panel on what their process was and why they chose to award the tender to Le Va, as then their reasons can be fact-checked and we can either have the evidence we need to say something untoward did in fact happen, or we can realise that they simply won the tender because they seemed to have an innovative approach that could help people, and then we can either move on to other political issues, or simply go back to trying to get some funding for Lifeline to salvage its training services so that they can keep doing highly necessary work while this new service gets set up.

            • Draco T Bastard

              or we can realise that they simply won the tender because they seemed to have an innovative approach that could help people

              If they’re going to win on that then I expect to see several peer-reviewed papers on that innovative approach.

              • While I agree with you with regards to what they did in this case- which is completely ditching Lifeline in favour of the new service, there’s absolutely room to experiment with parallel models and see how they do in practice so long as there’s no research already out there suggesting their model is a bad idea in principle. I think we should be willing to lead a bit, that’s what the whole “innovative” thing is supposed to mean.

                • Of course there’s room to experiment but you do that before you dump a working model for the new one. And then you use the same provider as well – saves on administration and stress for the people involved.

            • McFlock

              While you are correct, I do think that any wholesale change in any area, particularly when it involves abandoning established providers in favour of new entrants into the field, needs to be examined in the context of this government’s track record in issuing and supervising tenders for work.

              In that light, I’m reluctant to simply request further investigation – I think the need for change should be evident from the outset, otherwise I’m frankly bloody suspicious.

              As to writing tenders, it’s one thing to write a realistic tender about what can be offered by a provider. But in my experience the most difficult person to compete against for a job is someone who doesn’t really care and bullshits just enough to appear like a good employee who is realistically aspirational, when in fact they’re inexperienced and have no idea how much work the role entails.

              It’s not just about buzzwords, it’s about whether the new provider really can do more and provide better value than the experienced provider claimed to be capable of. That’s a damned big threshhold unless the existing provider was manifestly incompetent.

              • Yeah, it sounds like we’re on the same page here. Lifeline seemed to be performing very well from what people who have used the service have been saying, so it’s surprising that a completely novice operation would win a competitive tender against them. If it were just that fact, or just the fact that the PM’s wife is on their board, then this wouldn’t really smell fishy enough to be a story… but it does smell, and I hope to hear more facts about it in the future.

          • One Anonymous Bloke

            Not to mention the chief science advisor to the MSD is on the board of directors of The Wise Group, LeVa’s parent company.

            Cosy eh.

            That said, NZ is a small country population-wise, so these situations are bound to occur from time to time.

            So far as I’m concerned the health budget should be spent on public services, not private providers, so whether this is a crone appointment or not it’d be gone by lunchtime if I were PM.

            • Draco T Bastard

              So far as I’m concerned the health budget should be spent on public services, not private providers, so whether this is a crone appointment or not it’d be gone by lunchtime if I were PM.

              Fully agree that the health budget, and government services in general, should be spent fully in house. The research budget could, of course, be spent in house, in universities or private sector businesses.

        • greywarshark

          then evaluate whether both are succeeding next year, preferably with at least the same level of funding for lifeline.

          How do you evaluate ethically. If the object is stopping suicide, then the expected numbers will go up or down. So do you say ‘Oh dear, more people topped themselves – the new plan is not working?

          And partly it is talking to troubled people, distressed, lonely people. Does the organisation find out how many times they have called. It might be regularly twice a week. Would money be saved by limiting them to two? And what if the contact with someone else is what keeps them alive? Are they just an expensive ‘want’ rather than a ‘need’? Do you set them a code and give them so many allowed calls.

          The thing is that Lifeline trains its own people in accordance with its own culture, which I understand is to kindly, non judgmental, not offering advice or very much, being positive etc and trying to be not personal and confidential.

          This new outfit will presumably come under the new Social Investment budget and may be the reason why the new line was introduced by English. I don’t like pollies setting up government jobs for their own relatives. The Gnats are bad enough at selling off, leasing off, giving away bits of the country and its services to outfits like Serco, but unleashing their sanctimonious family members on suffering humanity is the last straw. Along with the desire for disclosure by agencies having government funding, this next would lead to knocks on the door from someone – I am not from government but private (so better) and I am here to help you and take over your life.

          This from the previous post 1/8/17 on this from Descendant of Sssmith makes concerning reading:

          Trying to bury bad news

          “In last year’s budget, the Nats awarded a $4.8m contract to an unknown organisation called PEDA without tender and against official advice. The people behind PEDA were apparently tied to Bill English via his wife. The full truth still hasn’t come out. Now, the Nats are up to the same trick with Parents Inc.

          Paula Bennett’s Ministry of Social Development will pay $2.4 million to Parents Inc for “parenting courses for the caregivers of vulnerable children”. This contract was untendered and previously unknown.”

          Parents Inc: it’s PEDA redux

    • Gabby 1.2

      Who are these experts?

    • Keepcalmcarryon 1.3

      Inconceivable I tell you.

  2. savenz 2

    Disgusting! But what we have come to expect from this crony government.

  3. zuszsa 3

    I would dearly love someone to do some investigating of The Wise Group (of which LaVa is a subsidary). As an organisation they seem to be hoovering up all sorts of government social sector contracts and IMHO something about them has a bit of a whiff.

  4. Venezia 4

    I thought the same. No names, no accountability. How can you find the information about who they are?

  5. You don’t easily replace that experience.

    I suspect that the new organisation fully expects all the Lifeline personnel to shift over to them – with the associated pay cut.

    After all, there’s absolutely no possibility that the new organisation has it’s own personnel already. Such a service isn’t something that a country is going to have competition in.

    • And thus the squeeze continues. =/

    • Crunchy 5.2

      “with the associated pay cut.”
      Got any evidence to back up that assertion?

      • Not ATM. IIRC, there was something about the change in blood-test providers in Auckland to a new firm. The new firm was dependent upon the existing personnel at lower wages to even start.

        • Crunchy

          Not at the moment, if I recall rightly, there was something…
          You have the gall to demand evidence, with statements like that?
          Little surprise that you have zero cred, and your ideology has zero cred.

          • Draco T Bastard

            Did you note the word ‘suspect’ in my first comment?

            It’s a way to indicate that I’m not giving an absolute, this will happen. But there is form in NZ for such things:

            Ms Lawer acknowledged that under the law the small family-owned business had a right to make her redundant.

            But an agreement for a redundancy payment was in her original contract, and Ms Lawer said that should have been passed along as contracts changed hands. She has never received one.

            She wants either Jani-King or Phagura Limited to pay her out $6804, or the equivalent of 30 weeks’ wages.

            Despite pesky little things like laws.

        • DoublePlusGood

          Moving from Diagnostic Medlab to Labtests absolutely resulted in a whole pile of less experienced (and in a couple of personal instances, thoroughly incompetent) phlebotomists being hired by Labtests at terrible wages, to underbid the contract. There were all sorts of difficulties at the beginning where they clearly didn’t have a great results reporting system, causing problems for health professionals that needed the results.

  6. Crunchy 6

    I’m sure I read (was it here?) a complaint that massively increasing suicide numbers were the fault of the National Govt. So that same Govt a)increases funding massively and b) takes the contract away from an organisation that obviously hasn’t been doing a very good job.
    Hard to please some people…

    • Stuart Munro 6.1

      Yup – take the job away from the world leading experts and give it to a bunch of wannabes from Dipton without addressing the structural causes. Geneyis!

      And if Labour don’t strike it down on day one they’ll have substantially worse suicide figures in their first term for the plague rats of the MSM to whinge about to try to build a Gnat recovery.

      • One Anonymous Bloke 6.1.1

        That depends: nationalising public services doesn’t mean withdrawing them, it just reduces the profit gouging.

    • One Anonymous Bloke 6.2

      Either way it’s an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff the National Party shoves people over.

      By the time Mary English is wringing her hands in a counselling session, the damage has already been done.

      This is your right wing dogma though: people commit suicide because they made bad choices. Nothing to do with you at all.

    • takes the contract away from an organisation that obviously hasn’t been doing a very good job.

      Got anything to back up that assertion?

      • Crunchy 6.3.1

        You’re kidding, right?
        I could search for and link to countless comments on this site, official statistics, MSM reports etc referring to increasing suicide numbers. I’m not going to play your little game – I’m too busy providing well paid jobs and safe working conditions to a whole bunch of hard working people actually doing great things for NZ. Those good jobs and the camaraderie, satisfaction pastoral support if needed that help to keep people from topping themselves. Maybe you should do the same instead of trying to convince people that their lives are fucked because it’s someone else’s fault. FFS

        • greywarshark

          You’re kidding right Crunchy (is that the Clown – perhaps you don’t take the role of political policies for all in the country seriously).

          You appear to be affronted about people worrying about suicide numbers and wanting to keep preventative methods and agencies keeping them at the minimum.

          So satisfied you are in your little bubble providing well paid jobs you say,
          safe working conditions, to hard working people. You say they are actually doing great things for NZ, but what is not explained so we don’t know if its true. And I wonder whether you have done something original or just set up a business to carry out what government used to do and has now privatised.

          Whatever you are so self-satisfied you sail along a metre above the common ground we walk on. There are hundreds of thousands who can’t get enough jobs or hours to provide a living. It is not a luxury for them to get pastoral support to help with their problems, but government is reluctant to provide it and I guess you don’t want to see any of your taxes going for it.

          What’s more you don’t give a fuck about them, only thinking of us all with derision, so why don’t you stay away and enjoy your spare time with your mates in the bubble. You might learn some reality if you keep coming here and that would do your head in. Mr/Ms Smug – no bill to be paid for this advice, just pay your taxes please that have been legally calculated.

          • Crunchy

            If your comprehension skills were better you may have noticed that I’m supporting greater Govt funding to a new initiative where an established organisation is not performing well – based on statistics. If you don’t want attempts to keep people from suiciding to score political points you are a POS.
            I lead an organisation (started as a small business by others many years ago) that had an average H&S record, and more than a few disengaged staff. I’m proud that with my blue collar roots and self funded skills update I have decreased harm and increased earnings and job satisfaction for over 50 people.
            I pay PAYE & have no ability to minimise tax.
            The rest of your envious waffle doesn’t deserve response, but maybe you should get on the Labour Party list as you appear ad useful as most of them.

            • greywarshark

              Statements of a pompous self-satisfied prick

              [people, dial back the abuse please – weka]

        • Draco T Bastard

          I could search for and link to countless comments on this site, official statistics, MSM reports etc referring to increasing suicide numbers.

          That’s irrelevant. We need statistics to show that Lifeline was/is doing a bad job.

          I’m not going to play your little game

          You don’t like it that you got called out on your lie.

          • Crunchy

            Ok, you win. I’ll accept your assertion that suicide rates are dropping. Is it because lifeline have been doing such a great job, or is it because NZ is in great shape after 9 years of good Govt?

            • srylands

              You are wasting your time with reasoned argument here. It is worth trying for while to remind yourself that nothing has changed. Then move on.

            • Draco T Bastard

              I’ll accept your assertion that suicide rates are dropping. Is it because lifeline have been doing such a great job, or is it because NZ is in great shape after 9 years of good Govt?

              And that would be another lie (I didn’t assert that suicide rates are dropping) followed by a leading question. You really do use a lot of deceit when communicating don’t you?

              Just because some suicide rates are going up doesn’t necessitate that Lifeline are doing a poor job.

              After all, Lifeline only gets involved if the people thinking of committing suicide call them. So, what percentage of people commit suicide after calling Lifeline? Has that rate gone up, down or remained steady?

              The next part is education but there’s a pesky law that prevents any talk about suicide in the public space and so that’s a little difficult.

              You are, quite simply, lying scum.

          • Crunchy

            So do you assert that stastically proven increases in suicides are due to this Govt?

  7. Ad 7

    This kind of service should be treated the same as ambulances:
    a non-contested fully hospital-integrated service.

    In the inevitable service breakdowns as one provider changes for another, the damage is to actual people.
    Not worth it.

  8. Sacha 8

    Let’s not get carried away in this instance. The contract concerned was not for frontline suicide counselling itself – which Lifeline is still funded for – but to “provide suicide-prevention training to frontline workers”.

    Without more details we cannot compare what Le Va and Lifeline were offering, but there has always been a problem with Pakeha-led services resulting in worse results for Maori and Pasifika people.

    • weka 8.1


      Also an issue is how much Lifeline depend on that contract to function as an organisation.

      • Sacha 8.1.1

        That seems more likely to be a legit issue – this govt have screwed down admin funding for most organisations in favour of tagged service funding at the cheapest rate they can get – unless its a for-profit contractor, strangely.

    • Crunchy 8.2

      Hi Sacha
      So can you confirm that lifeline is still funded for their core activity?
      Does this mean that Govt funding is actually massively increased, and more targeted to increasingly vulnerable communities?
      Surely the author of this post isn’t bullshitting?

  9. esoteric pineapples 9

    Reading the comments on this from Martin Bradbury at The Daily Blog, it seems that Dr Mary English is very religious and has problems with abortion, gays and feminism. If this is true, then I would wonder if the company who won the contract has a similar perspective, wants to “cure” people of these issues and will be spinning this line when it counsels people.

    • Sabine 9.1

      just pray the suicidal thoughts away.

      Christians for Mammon! all hail the golden cow. Blessed be.

    • weka 9.2

      Mary English is also anti-abortion. I can’t confirm this with a link, but am pretty sure she was a senior figure in SPUC back in the day (pre-internet). There’s enough there to look at conflicts of interest.

  10. Sabine 10

    forced birther and anti mental healthcare.


  11. patricia bremner 11

    National. Underfund it.
    Say it is failing.
    Bring in your privatised model.
    Publicise losses
    Privatise profits.

    Happens all the time.

    Will be interesting to see what the Jacinda “circuit breaker” offers on mental health.

    I’m “positively certain” it will be better than the above. Cheers!!!!!

  12. SMILIN 12

    couldnt they get a grant from lotto, worthy cause just as important as health education and housing .
    i forgot they dont get anything either because of this neoliberal buy out of our sovereignty
    how long before we officially hear the nz govt is no longer credible in the UN and we are fully taken over either by the US or Australia ?

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