Mental health focus for TaskforceNQ

Date published: 10 September 2020

A successful mental health co-responder group should be made permanent and expanded to enhance support and treatment available to the Townsville community, according to the region’s COVID-19 recovery taskforce.

This R U OK? Day, TaskforceNQ is calling for funding to make the Townsville Mental Health Service Group co-responder program with the Queensland Police Service (QPS) permanent and to expand its services.

TaskforceNQ is also calling for the establishment of a co-responder program with the Queensland Ambulance Service (QAS) which would provide early intervention and assessment for individuals experiencing a crisis.

The taskforce is seeking $1 million in annual funding for the programs.

“The statistics for mental health and suicide are very disturbing,” TaskforceNQ chairperson and Townsville Mayor Jenny Hill said.

“The Productivity Commission estimates that the cost to the Australian economy of mental ill-health and suicide is, conservatively, in the order of $43 to $51 billion per year.

“The COVID-19 global pandemic has only exacerbated the very real mental health issues we are facing as a community.

“Since mid-March, Australians have accessed more than 5.7 million mental health services funded by Medicare. About 1 million of those have been in the last month, which is 9.2 per cent higher than the same period last year.

“Tragically, the rate of suicide in Townsville is around 2.5 times the national average. It’s clear that we need to do something urgently.”

Cr Hill said the mental health co-responder program had been recognised at the Queensland Health Awards for Excellence for inroads in offering mental health treatment in the community.

“During the period January to November 2019, more than 70 per cent of QPS calls for service that were responded to by the co-responder team were diverted from the hospital emergency department and release times for QPS and QAS first responders reduced,” she said.

“The permanent establishment of the police co-responder program and the formation of a similar ambulance program would divert those suffering mental health issues away from hospital emergency departments, provide timely care in times of crisis and enhance collaboration to address mental health within the wider community.”

Acting Inspector Graeme Paterson from the Townsville District said Police had been very happy with the benefits that the mental health co-responder model had brought to the community and frontline police officers.

“Giving police the ability to liaise with a qualified health professional at the time of the incident allows for the best decision to be made for the person in crisis,” A/Insp Paterson said.

“The co-responder model allows for incidents to be resolved within the community, without the need for a patient to be transferred to hospital.

“This saves time for Police, QAS and health care professionals and reduces risk of harm to all involved.”