teenage girl suffering with depression in a conversation with a therapist

Nurses to be based at police stations to support mental health

Mental health nurses will be based at some Sydney police stations and accompany officers to psychiatric emergencies as part of a new program to help people in a mental health crisis.

36 specialist mental health clinicians will be employed across 10 police area commands and districts in Sydney following the strong results of a pilot program.

Mental Health Minister Bronnie Taylor and Police Minister David Elliott will expand the Police, Ambulance and Clinical Early Response (PACER) program which offers expert support to police and ambulance officers called to mental health emergencies.

NSW Police last year attended more than 55,000 mental health incidents. Mrs Taylor said the expansion of the program was part of a ground-breaking collaboration.

“[It] embeds mental health experts with first responders to support them to appropriately recognise, assess and respond to psychiatric incidents live at the scene,” Mrs Taylor said.

“The pilot program has had incredible results with significant reductions in emergency department presentations, police and ambulance time-on-scene.”

Mr Elliott said the program provided crucial support for police officers.

“During the pilot program, police time-on-scene was reduced by an average of 45 minutes, not only supporting first responders to appropriately recognise and respond to psychiatric incidents in the community, but also freeing up officers to serve the community in other areas,” Mr Elliott said.

“The presence and availability of a PACER clinician in a police station increases the knowledge and understanding of mental health issues amongst officers.

“This initiative is crucial, now more than ever, following the devastating ‘Black Summer’ bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic, which have affected us all.”

NSW Police Deputy Commissioner Malcolm Lanyon said the model was successfully trialled in the St George area.

“We saw a significant reduction in time taken for police to respond to these matters. It translated to a better outcome for both our officers and the individuals in need of assistance,” Mr Lanyon said.

The program will operate in Campbelltown, Nepean, Northern Beaches, Sutherland Shire, Blacktown, Eastern Beaches, Ku-ring-gai, Metro Combined (Kings Cross, Surry Hills, City of Sydney), South Sydney and Bankstown police districts. It will also be expanded to the Central West.

The $6 million investment for the mental health clinicians is part of the Berejiklian government’s $73 million COVID-19 mental health package.

In NSW more than 180 mental health workers will be deployed across the state as part of a package to bolster mental health services during the pandemic.

There will be capacity for an extra 60,000 calls in the next 12 months to the 1800 NSW Mental Health Line and the creation of pop-up mental health Safe Space sites to reduce pressure on emergency departments.

Recruitment for the specialist mental health clinicians will start next month.

This article was originally published on the Sydney Morning Herald on 10/6/2020 by Alexandra Smith.