12 Feb 2024

Mental health option could be added when people call 111, minister says

1:41 pm on 12 February 2024
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Minister Matt Doocey told Midday Report "it might be time for New Zealand to have a fourth option" when they call emergency services. Photo: 123rf

A fourth option - alongside fire, ambulance and police - could be created for those who call 111, the new mental health minister says.

A recent ministerial briefing proposed police withdraw from some family harm and mental health calls, saying other agencies should fill that role.

Minister Matt Doocey said he was getting more information, but was considering a specialised first responders group for people in mental health crisis.

Doocey told Midday Report "it might be time for New Zealand to have a fourth option" when they call emergency services.

"Potentially we have fire, ambulance, police, maybe we have a fourth option of mental health, which will help triage the calls and get a better response out to those people in a time of crisis."

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Mental Health Minister Matt Doocey. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Selecting the 'mental health' option would ensure people in distress got the right support, he said.

"I think it's very clear when you call 111 with a physical health crisis [currently] you get a health response. When you call 111 with a mental health crisis in New Zealand you get a criminal justice response.

"I think most people are saying it would be better if we had mental health professionals turning up to 111 calls when there is a mental health crisis response needed, and that's what I would support as the new mental health minister."

Where a person's life was at risk, police should be responding alongside mental health professionals, but a police presence would not be needed in every case, he said.

Doocey has requested that Health NZ, the police and the Ministry of Health look at a five-year rollout of a mental health co-response team programme.

He would be receiving the advice on that proposal in March.

When asked whether mental health professionals would have the same powers as police - for example, to detain people in distress - Doocey said that would be looked at.

He said there had been a few pilots happening throughout the country that saw mental health professionals team up with emergency services, such as police and paramedics

A review of a Wellington pilot showed "great outcomes", including fewer mental health patients presenting at the emergency department.

The current model had seen police commit "a lot of resource" to mental health callouts, he said.

"We don't want to end up like the United Kingdom where the metropolitan police have already issued a statement that they'll no longer turn up to mental health crisis callouts."