A Christchurch-based nurse, who cannot be named because Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) policy prevents her talking publicly, said half the referrals from GPs for patients to mental health services were wrong.
Patient were languishing on waiting lists for months, which affected their health.
“A waiting list isn’t the best place for these people, especially when over half of them don’t need specialised mental health services.”
She said GPs often only saw patients for 10 minutes and that was not enough time to assess a person correctly.
“It’s not their [GPs] fault, but we don’t want them flicking people through. We need to look at where people might be better suited.”
Only those with ''severe mental illness'', which made life nearly unbearable were meant to be referred according to Ministry of Health guidelines.
About 3 per cent of Canterbury's population use mental health services each year - in line with the national average.
Canterbury District Health Board mental health acting general manager Barbara Wilson said that patients were treated in order of need.
She said that last year, 50 per cent of GP referrals to specialist mental health services resulted in reassessment, but said that did not mean the referrals were ''incorrect''.
Wilson said GPs did not just refer patients to specialist services for treatment, but also for advice on how to continue care in the community.
Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners medical director Richard Medlicott said even if specialist services were feeling overburdened, GPs still managed about 95 per cent of mental health issues.
“Specialty services have to accept that part of their role is diagnostic, to say otherwise is a bit naïve.”
Medlicott said people were complex, and sometimes GPs needed a second opinion.
“Forty-five minutes with a psychiatrist can be very different [to] 15 minutes with a GP.”
Medlicott said that if GPs managed 95 per cent of mental health illness, and specialist services managed three per cent, then the two per cent is the “grey zone”.
The Mental Health Foundation said that the majority of people were referred by their GP to counsellors, peer support groups, or other mental health organisations.