Crisis clinicians offer a helping hand for mental health emergencies in Western Sydney

Left to right: Blacktown Hospital acute team Rizvan Patel, PACER clinician Joseph Varghese, Blacktown Police Area Command acting superintendent Tamara Kirby, PACER clinician Arun Kaushal and Blacktown Police Area Command Nicole Pattinson.

A pilot program has been launched to deploy a mental health professional when a 000 caller reports a psychiatric incident.

After successful implementation in Victoria and Canberra, the Police Ambulance and Clinical Early Response (PACER) program is being rolled out in Western Sydney Local Health District (WSLHD).

Aiming to provide early mental health intervention and reduce emergency department presentations where possible, the program is already helping community members in need.

Mental health clinician Joseph Kochupaingot Varghes said his 10 years of experience in community health helped him in this new, independent role.

“A sense of urgency is needed when responding to these crisis situations. Attending to people experiencing mental health emergencies as quickly as possible can be life-saving,” he said.

“We arrive with the police and ambulance brigades and carry out an initial assessment. For some patients experiencing a psychiatric incident a trip to the emergency department can actually further escalate their condition.

“If we can provide support at the right time, most people can avoid having to go to hospital and are usually safe to be left at home with follow up referrals provided for relevant mental health services.”

Photo courtesy Getty Images.

The other member of the two-person PACER team, mental health clinician Arun Kaushal said feedback from their police and ambulance counterparts has been extremely positive.

“We have been able to effectively de-escalate conflicts and provide immediate medical and mental health intervention,” Arun said.

“On average we spend two to three hours with each consumer. Sometimes it can take longer – that’s the nature of our job. We talk to families and ensure the person has support at home.”

The successful implementation of the PACER program in other states showed a significant reduction in the number of emergency department presentations, as well as the time for police and ambulance spent on each psychiatric emergency.

Launched in Western Sydney on 26 October, the program has been expanded to Campbelltown, Nepean, Northern Beaches, Sutherland Shire, Eastern Beaches, Kuring-gai and Sydney Metro. The pilot will continue until the end of 2020 – 2021 financial year and then will be re-assessed.