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Concerns highlight crisis in mental health sector

13 June 2006

Police concerns highlight crisis in mental health sector

Reports that police are struggling to cope with mental health patients in the absence of adequate staffing and resources in the mental health sector is bad news both for police and for patients, Green Party Mental Health Spokesperson Sue Bradford says.

An article in the latest Police News magazine highlights the difficulty police are having coping with call-outs to deal with mental health patients. Because the mental health sector is understaffed and under-resourced, police frequently end up supervising mental health patients in crisis situations. Patients are often kept in police cells for extended periods of time because it can take hours for crisis teams to arrive.

"This situation is unacceptable for all concerned. Spending long periods dealing with mental health patients is a drain on already scarce police resources, and being interred in police cells for hours on end is completely inappropriate for mental health patients, who are often in crisis situations and extremely agitated and sensitive," Ms Bradford says.

"Police are doing their best to cope, but officers are not trained to deal with complex mental health scenarios. The risks to patients and police, including legally if something goes wrong, are considerable.

"This situation has arisen because of the inadequate way that deinstitutionalisation of our mental health sector has been handled over the last 25 years. The move away from institutions to community care is in itself a very positive one, but it has not been accompanied by adequate funding, meaning that our mental health sector is now in a dire situation.

"The deinstitutionalisation of the mental health sector without proper investment in acute and community care has allowed substantial gaps to emerge between Blueprint targets and actual funding levels. In this vacuum, all sorts of negative scenarios have arisen. The unsanitary boarding house run by a member of the public that was recently closed down in Kapiti is another example.

"Mental health continues to be the poor cousin of physical health in terms of funding and services, and urgently needs to be given a higher priority by DHBs and the Government in many places. It should not be left up to police and members of the public, well-intentioned or otherwise, to provide services which are the Government's responsibility," Ms Bradford says.

ENDS

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