A new program will see specialist mental health clinicians collaborating on scene with Lake Illawarra Police and ambulance services to treat people experiencing a mental health crisis.
Minister for Mental Health Bronnie Taylor on Wednesday announced an expansion of the Police Ambulance Clinical Early Response (PACER) model into Lake Illawarra Police District.
Clinicians, who are based at their usual community health facility, will join police when they are called to a mental health crisis with the patients receiving an assessment in their homes rather than going to an emergency department.
"The trial in Kogarah has shown a reduction of on average 45 minutes that police need to spend at an incident," Ms Taylor said.
"This allows police to go and do the jobs they need to do, and makes sure a mental health patient, who having a really bad day, gets the expert help and care from the clinicians."
Ms Taylor said the trial results showed a decrease in presentations to emergency departments and scheduling of patients.
PACER clinical nurse consultant attached to the PACER program, Chris Scott has been one of two clinicians working with Wollongong Police District in the Illawarra since April.
"We plan ways to keep that person out of hospital and in the more comfortable setting of their home," he said.
Mr Scott said patients benefited from having the assessment undertaken at their home rather than in hospital, as there was no waiting times that caused additional stress.
Lake Illawarra Police District's Acting Superintendent Dan Richardson said the benefit of the program for police was the saved resources and time attending mental health jobs.
"We average 80 mental health jobs a month and went to 1000 last year," he said. "Out of those 1000, we presented 300 to hospital.
"Our aim with this program is to reduce that number and the amount of time spent with the people. They are not in custody and are patients who need mental health services."
Supt Richardson said police officers' time would be saved because they would not be tied up transporting patients to hospital.
"We have limited training in recognising the signs and symptoms of mental health but we are not trained counsellors nor do we have the ability to provide the extra support and services that the mental health clinicians can," he said.
"The expert advice will be of benefit to police. If the patient has not committed any crime, then police can now back away and let the clinicians take over and provide the support that is needed."
Supt Richardson said police can step in if the situation escalates of if the clinicians fear for their own safety due to potential violence.
He said there had been a small rise in the number of COVID-19-related mental health cases.
"Since April, there were 47 instances we reported that directly related to COVID and people struggling with the isolation and restrictions," he said. "But we have not seen a significant spike."
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