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Police, WFA And CCDHB Team Up To Provide A Better Response To Mental Health Distress

From today (Tuesday 17 March), a new inter-agency team led by Wellington District Police in partnership with Wellington Free Ambulance (WFA) and Capital and Coast District Health Board (CCDHB) will respond to emergency mental health calls in Wellington city.

The Co-Response Team (CRT) – made up of a police officer, paramedic and mental health clinician – will provide enhanced on-scene care to people in need of an emergency mental health response.

“This Co-Response Team is the first of its kind in New Zealand and will be trialled for 12 months,” says Senior Sergeant Matthew Morris, CRT project lead.

“It’s a promising cross-sector initiative that looks to improve the emergency response from Police and ambulance to those in mental health distress, while at the same time providing immediate access to professional support and mental health services.”

The volume of mental health-related calls to emergency services has been increasing in recent years.

From 2018 to 2019 alone, the total volume of mental health-related calls for service to Police increased by 12 per cent.

While emergency services do the best they can when dispatched to mental health-related events, the CRT partners have recognised an opportunity to improve the emergency response provided to people in mental health distress.

“People in mental health distress often call emergency services for help,” says Paul Fake, Executive Director of Quality, Improvement and Innovation at Wellington Free Ambulance.

“Police and paramedics are not experts in providing on-scene mental health support and this can result in a large number of people being unnecessarily transported to emergency departments or police stations.

“We want to ensure people and their whānau receive the most appropriate care with support from their own networks where possible.”

International evidence shows that CRTs can significantly improve the experience for service users by providing improved care and experience.

“The CRT can deliver timely, coordinated and specialist care at home or in a community setting, with an experienced mental health clinician as part of the team,” says Nigel Fairley, General Manager Mental Health Addictions and Intellectual Disability Service, CCDHB.

“This provides another layer of crisis support for people in the Wellington region, and complements our 24/7 mental health and addictions crisis contact centre, Te Haika, contactable on 0800 745 477.”

The CRT will respond to events together in the same vehicle, dispatched to emergency mental health calls for Police or Ambulance.

Initially the CRT will operate from 8am to 6pm, Tuesday to Friday, with the intention to extend operating hours and geographic coverage at various stages during the 12-month trial.

Existing emergency services will respond to mental health-related callouts when the CRT is unavailable.

“All agencies are committed to working in partnership to improve the response people in mental health distress receive when they reach out to emergency services,” says Senior Sergeant Morris.

“I know the team is looking forward to working together to provide better care to those who need it.”

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