Police disappointed in Govt’s move to cut mental health assistance

Long Lunch 17/07/2018
Photo credit: AAP.

The Government has been slammed for ending a plan to send mental health workers out with police and ambulance staff.

National announced last year an $8 million trial for the new approach but the Labour-led coalition Government has decided to spend the money elsewhere. Health Minister David Clark said the idea “was never really developed”.

Chris Cahill, president of the New Zealand Police Association, told RadioLIVE’s Wendyl Nissen that it’s time for politics to be put aside.

“There’s too much urgency required to address the serious risks mental health poses to so many New Zealanders,” he said. “Let’s get out, get some schemes underway, and get some results.”

Mr Cahill believes the trial would have been a “really interesting pilot”.

“Not costing a lot of money, and we’d rather see it go ahead or at least something to replace it very quickly if this isn’t the answer,” he told RadioLIVE.

The police association says frontline officers are inundated with calls from people with a mental illness.

“In the last four years there’s been a 50 percent increase in calls to threats of suicide or attempted suicide,” Mr Cahill said.

“[Police officers] tend to over 50,000 mental health callouts overall – and some of those can be quite dangerous situations.

He says members of the force are frustrated because so many of the calls they receive are repetitive.

“People that are asking for help and just aren’t able to get it, or their families are asking for help and just aren’t able to get it. There really needs to be some emphasis on mental health resourcing and getting those experts out there to help these people,” Mr Cahill told Wendyl Nissen.

Meanwhile, Mr Clark says he recognises the need to improve the response to 111 mental health callouts, but believes those with mental health issues should get the help they need before that point.

He told The AM Show on RadioLIVE that rebuilding the “broken mental health system” will take time.

"There are mental health workers who care about this and I want to acknowledge those who turn up to work every day and often in quite stretched environments. Many wards have been understaffed for years. Those families should keep reaching out for help because there are people who want to support them."

Listen to the full interview with Chris Cahill above.

The Long Lunch with Wendyl Nissen, 12pm - 3pm on RadioLIVE and streaming live to the rova app on Android and iPhone.