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Police pilot of nursing support in stations

Joint Media Release: Ministry of Health and New Zealand Police

Police to conduct pilot of nursing support in stations

A scheme expected to have significant benefit to those who suffer from mental health issues or drug or alcohol problems is under way in the Manukau and Christchurch Central Police Stations. The scheme is part of a new pilot programme by the New Zealand Police and the Ministry of Health.

Specialist nurses with expertise in mental health and alcohol and other drugs have started work in partnership with Counties Manukau and Canterbury District Health Boards. The pilot involves watch house-based specialist nurses screening people who have been arrested and who might have mental health and alcohol/drug issues, enabling people to be referred to treatment if they require it. Without the identification and knowledge of mental health and or addiction issues, these vulnerable people could be processed with no consideration to their particular needs.

This pilot is an extension of the liaison service between Rotorua Police station and Lakes DHB, a service set up in 2001 that involved a mental health (only) nurse.

Positive results have been reported from the Rotorua initiative, including upskilling police on the effects of mental health issues and the avoidance of the negative side effects for such people being held in custody.

Assistant Commissioner Grant Nicholls said Police are very often the first agency to have contact with people with mental health and alcohol/drug issues, and the assistance of specialist nurses will be ideal for the watch houses.

Manukau Police Station is one of the busiest in the country, and the presence of specialist nurses will assist in the appropriate custodial management of those detainees that require assessment and treatment. The main aim of the pilot is to enhance the social functioning and mental health of people who have been detained, to assist in reducing the rate of drug and alcohol abuse and addiction-related harm, and to assist in the reduction of offending.

In 2007 48% of people held in Police stations reported that they had been using at least one drug at the time of arrest. In the same year, Police were called to nearly 9,000 incidents involving people with solely mental health related issues and assisted over 17,000 people who had become affected by alcohol and drugs.

"The nurses will assist Police in managing people brought to the Police stations who may have mental health and/or alcohol and drug issues and will identify and assess them and if necessary, refer them to treatment providers to help them overcome these issues," said Mr Nicholls.

Mr Nicholls said the initiative is a good example of both Police and the health sector taking a pro-active approach to tackling these issues at an early stage.

"Giving people the support they need at the earliest possible stage is crucial to reducing the chance of seeing them turn up again in our Police stations."

Director of Mental Health Dr David Chaplow supports the initiative.

“Being confined in police cells can, on occasions, aggravate peoples’ mental health condition. Mental health problems sometimes contribute to offending. In some cases referring these people to assessment and treatment may be very appropriate."


Questions and Answers
Why were these pilots established?

Police encounter people with mental health and alcohol and other drug (AOD) problems in the normal course of their work. The most serious situations occur when Police are holding people with mental and/or AOD problems in their watch houses:

* The first aid and custodial care required often exceeds the expertise of Police

* Arrested or detained people with mental health problems are often difficult and time consuming for police to manage

* The police cell environment can be detrimental to the wellbeing of people with mental health problems.

The Rotorua Police Station has had a mental health nurse (without AOD expertise) in their watch house since 2001 to assist with the care of people held in their cells.

These new pilots in Christchurch and Counties Manukau are to be a more comprehensive version of this earlier model, with the addition of AOD expertise and more resource with the appointment of two fulltime positions at each station.

What is the role of the nurses?

* Screening people for mental health and AOD issues

* Liaise between mental health and AOD service providers, the Police, the Courts, and families/whanau

* Connect people to other social services if possible and appropriate

* Monitor cells to ensure intoxicated people are not at risk

* Educate or provide advice to Police about the needs of people with mental health and/or AOD problems and statutory requirements.

What is the term of the pilot?

From the start date to 30 June 2010. Both pilots commenced planning and establishment January 2008, and actual services commenced in May/June 2008.

Is the pilot being evaluated?

Yes. Police are managing the evaluation of the pilot. The evaluation is to be completed in 2009, however planning for the evaluation commenced in early 2008.

The results, if favourable, could enable the continuation of the pilot past 30 June 2010 and the roll-out to other Police stations nation-wide subject to workforce availability.

Arresting intoxicated people
Police are currently the only agency that provides a place for intoxicated people to be held under section 37A of the Alcoholism and Drug Addiction Act 1966. Section 37A has been updated and transferred to the Policing Bill (set to replace the Police Act 1958).

Arresting persons with mental health issues Similarly, Police can apprehend a person appearing to be mentally disordered in a public place under section 109 of the Mental Health (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Act 1992 and take them to a police station, hospital, surgery or other appropriate place and arrange for them to be examined by a medical practitioner. The Ministry of Health is considering opportunities to establish detoxification centres in the future.

Police can hold people under this section for up to six hours or until they are assessed, whichever occurs first.


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