Mental Health Nurses a vital part in police crisis response

Article by Adjunct Associate Professor Kim Ryan, CEO, the Australian College of Mental Health Nurses

The NSW Police Force recently announced a plan to have a trained mental health nurse ride along with police to every mental health-related incident. 

Times of crisis are stressful for everyone involved and all attempts to reduce the stress and trauma surrounding mental health crisis points need to be welcomed, they also need be well resourced. Involving mental health nurses in an initial response, along with mental health trained police officers, has the potential to improve outcomes across the board: for the consumer and their family, the police, as well as health and emergency services

The NSW plan is similar to the Police, Ambulance and Clinical Early Response (PACER) program run in Victoria. The PACER pilot program first operated in Victoria 2007 and was restabilised in 2013. This program is a formal partnership strengthening collaboration between mental health services, the Crisis Assessment and Treatment (CAT) teams, and ambulance services and police, with the view to more effectively address the needs of a person experiencing a mental health crisis.

A report published by Victorian Health Department found that ‘Presentations in the PACER area had a shorter length of stay in the emergency department, an average of approximately four hours, compared to presentations resulting from usual service provision…of approximately six hours.’ . Anecdotally, the PACER model in Victoria has been well received by consumers and carers. And, as I write this, The Alfred Psychiatry Department and Bayside Medicare Local has won an award at the TheMHS conference in Canberra for A-PACER (Alfred Police and Clinical Early Response) in the area of assessment and or treatment program or service. Congratulations to all involved.  

I am sure there are many lessons NSW can learn from the Victorian experience and the Australian College of Mental Health Nurses would be happy to provide any support or assistance to NSW Police in the design and roll out of their program. 

Mr Tim Brown and Mrs Karen Bourke-Finn from Barwon Health, a partner in the Victorian program, will be presenting on the PACER Program at the upcoming ACMHN 2015 conference in Brisbane on 7 – 9 October 2015. The presentation by Barwon Health on the Wednesday of ACMHN 2015, along with the collaborative panel discussion with Emergency Nurses on the Friday, will provide a great opportunity to explore how programs like PACER can improve responses to mental health crises. The ACMHN will be happy to report back to NSW Police with any feedback from the conference that may help inform the implementation of their proposal.’


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