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“Mental health is a health problem, not a police problem” hears Inquiry

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Amanda Cohn
NSW Greens MP
17 November 2023

The NSW mental health Inquiry has heard today about other jurisdictions’ emergency response models leading to better outcomes for people experiencing mental health distress, less strain on health systems, and strong community engagement in regional and rural areas.

Executive Director of Operations for South Australia Ambulance Service, Mr Paul Lemmer ASM appeared at the Inquiry to discuss the South Australian Mental Health Co-Response (MH CORE) for mental health emergency responses.

The model works by Triple Zero calls being referred to the MH CORE team. The team is made up of a paramedic and mental health clinician arriving at the incident in an ambulance.

“Mental health is a health problem, it’s not a police problem. We’ve been really clear as a state in trying to say that response for mental health consumers is not SAPOL (South Australia Police)-led, it should be ambulance-led or health-led. Police come in and support if there is a safety risk but it is not a primary response,” said Mr Lemmer.

The Inquiry heard that from April to June this year, the MH CORE model attended to approximately 700 calls. Mr Lemmer said that in around three quarters of those instances, the team was able to provide patient care within the community without transport to hospital or engagement with police.

Mr Lemmer said there has been no instances of harm to MH CORE staff attending incidents.

“We’ve had some cases which you would define as a ‘near miss,’ where a crew have turned up in a highly aggressive, volatile situation. The one thing I say our workforce do very well is that ability to walk in a room, pick that very quickly and make a decision whether they need to disengage or not. We’ve had some scenarios where we have disengaged, but there hasn’t been any physical harm towards the staff involved,” said Mr Lemmer.

Mr Lemmer discussed the tailored approach taken towards managing mental health emergencies in regional and rural areas through a community paramedic model:

“It’s about that early engagement, it’s not a traditional ambulance role. We don’t wait for the Triple Zero call to arrive,” said Mr Lemmer.

Executive Director, Mental Health, Justice Health, Alcohol and Drug Services Canberra Health Services, Ms Katie McKenzie shared the experience of the ACT using the Police, Ambulance and Clinician Early Response (PACER) model.

This model involves a paramedic, mental health clinician, and police officer attending in an unmarked vehicle.

“What it might look like is … a therapeutic intent rather than somebody coming along to take them somewhere that they don’t want to be taken,” said Ms McKenzie.

“PACER is an extremely important response in a robust mental health system but follow-up is equally as important. Just a brief interaction is never going to be enough for people in crisis. As you move to thinking about what might work in NSW, I encourage you to think of the whole spectrum, not just that immediate response,” said Ms McKenzie.

Dr Amanda Cohn, the Inquiry’s Chair and NSW Greens spokesperson for Health including Mental Health, highlighted the importance of today’s hearing to inform and improve NSW emergency responses to people experiencing mental distress:

“NSW Police were deployed to 64,000 mental health incidents last year alone. The Police Deputy Commissioner said himself that for many of those incidents, police should not have attended.

“Today’s hearing demonstrated how we can do better based on programs already working interstate. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel when we know that a health-led response can be implemented safely for workers, and with much better outcomes for patients and their families,” said Dr Cohn.


Media contact: Josh Appleton - 02 9230 2566

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Amanda Cohn
NSW Greens MP
17 November 2023


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