New support for mental health emergencies

A new trial scheme will see a Police officer, paramedic and mental health professional respond in a special team to mental health emergency calls in Wellington city.

Wellington District Police are leading the new co-response team involving Capital & Coast District Health Board (CCDHB) and Wellington Free Ambulance.

“The 12-month trial will see a police officer, an ambulance paramedic and a mental health professional respond in the same vehicle to 111 calls for people experiencing mental health distress,” said Police Minister Stuart Nash.

“It adds an extra level of specialist care to existing services and is timely given heightened concerns over COVID-19. It aims to reduce the number of mental health patients taken to hospital emergency departments by Police and ambulance crews.

“In the CCDHB area 215 people in mental health distress were taken to emergency departments by Police and 594 by ambulance in the last financial year. Almost two-thirds were discharged and were not admitted to an in-patient mental health unit.

“Frontline responders do their best, but emergency departments are often not the best place for someone in mental health distress. Police stations are also not the right place.

“In the three months to February, Wellington Police dealt with an average of 134 mental health-related calls every week, or 19 a day. Across the country, mental health-related callouts to Police increased by 12 percent during 2019, to almost 62,000 calls.

“The co-response team aims to provide better support for people in distress, and ensure frontline responders themselves are making best use of people, skills and resources.

“It will allow a mental health professional to better support the person in distress. They can access information that Police and ambulance crews do not have access to, such as care plans, medication records and family contacts,” Mr Nash said.

“The Mental Health and Addiction Inquiry called for more collaboration across agencies, and this is an example of how we are putting that into action,” said Health Minister David Clark.

“The team approach will mean that when a person is in crisis they will be much better supported.

“The Government is taking mental health seriously. Budget 2019 increased support for frontline mental health services with a $455 million injection, and a special $38 million package for Wellington Free Ambulance and St John,” said David Clark.

The co-response team (CRT) will operate on a rostered shift pattern, ten hours a day, four days a week. It may be extended during the trial. Existing emergency services will respond to mental health callouts when the CRT is unavailable. Other support includes the Wellington 24/7 mental health and addictions contact centre on 0800 745 477, and the national free text service 1737. The trial is estimated to cost $700,000.