Sunshine Coast residents in the midst of a mental health crisis will be the first in regional Queensland to be assessed at home by a senior mental health clinician on the front line.
- The Sunshine Coast is the first regional location to put a senior health clinician on the front line accompanying paramedics to patients having a mental health crisis
- It aims to avoid further stress to patients and emergency departments
- The service follows a trial in South East Queensland where 65 per cent of patients were able to avoid a hospital admission
The Queensland Ambulance Service and Queensland Health initiative is designed to decrease stress put on patients and emergency departments by unnecessary hospital admissions.
Mental Health response program director Sandra Garner said pairing a mental health clinician with a senior paramedic enabled the response team to quickly identify the appropriate care.
“We are able to provide the same type of assessment that happens in an emergency department to people who are in their own homes,” Ms Garner said.
“The referrals that would happen in an emergency department can be offered at home.”
The program was trialled in South East Queensland in 2019 and results showed 65 per cent of people who called for help were able to stay at home and avoid being transferred to hospital.
“People who are experiencing mental health crisis don’t necessarily need to go to the emergency department,” she said.
The number of people calling for help experiencing a mental health crisis had increased by 20 per cent every year since 2015, according to Ms Garner.
“We’re seeing a lot of people who are experiencing mental health symptoms for the first time given the COVID situation that’s happening,” she said.
She said a mental health clinician would be rostered on for 10 hours each day to cover the late afternoon and early evening, which were identified as peak times for mental health crisis calls.
A commonsense service
Senior health clinician Rachel McCready said the service has been needed for many years.
“Obviously coming to an emergency department can be quite confronting and overwhelming so if we can review people in their own home it can be more comfortable and more of a positive outcome,” Ms McCready said.
Each day about 200 people across the state call triple-0 during a mental health crisis, according to the Queensland Ambulance Service.
The QAS said about 85 per cent of people experiencing a mental health crisis were transferred to the emergency department for assessment.
Advanced care paramedic David Hardstaff said without a senior health clinician on the frontline, the emergency response team could only assess a patient’s physical condition.
“Now we’re able to do a lot of interventions that we wouldn’t normally have been able to do purely as a paramedic.”
He said since a mental health clinician had accompanied him on mental health crises jobs, the patients were calmer and less restraints were used.
QAS said the program would extend to Cairns and Townsville in the next two months.
A win for all
Brain and mind professor and mental health consultancy founder John Mendoza said the program was a proven approach, which had saved Adelaide about a million dollars in inpatient costs.
“For the Sunshine Coast, Gympie region, I think it’d be reasonable to work towards a savings target of at least three quarters [of a million dollars] per year,” Prof Mendoza said.
He said transporting mental health patients amid a crises often further traumatised patients further and caused them to stay in hospital longer, which cost significant money.
“So much of the cost of mental health care is tied up in acute inpatient care and freeing up those funds enables more early intervention community work to be done,” he said.
He said during the trial in Adelaide, 80 per cent of people suffering a mental health crisis were able to stay home.
“The really key thing is overwhelmingly this is a better course of action for the consumer,” he said.
He said with demand at an all-time high, he called on the government to address mental health concerns similar to the pandemic.
“We mobilised resources, we increased the workforce capacity, we were innovative and agile in responding as a nation with our health services,” he said.
“It’s incumbent upon our health ministers and the executives of health services across Australia to do exactly the same in relation to the mental health crisis that is now following in the in the shadow of the COVID pandemic.”