Photo courtesy of West Moreton Health: Pictured is West Moreton Health Clinical Nurse Consultants Chris Watkins and Janet Brack
with Acting Sergeant Ian McGookin from Springfield Station.

The Mental Health Co-Responder program involves a mental health nurse joining forces with local police on call outs involving a mental health issue.

After 30 years of psychiatric nursing all over Australia and in Canada, Chis Watkins wouldn’t want to do anything else.

He is the newest addition to a very unique concept that we have here in Ipswich.

“I’ll do whatever I can to help people who are at their most vulnerable. It is a role I don’t take for granted and I am really grateful for the opportunity to help people,” Mr Watkins said.

The program started in March 2017 and has recently been expanded now providing a seven day a week service.

Ipswich policeman and Mental Health Intervention co-ordinator Sergeant Leon Margetts felt there was a growing need to address the issue of people in crisis when police are called to a home.

“It was a no brainer. We needed to think a bit laterally, so this is what I came up with,” Sergeant Margetts said.

“Mental illness has increased in society in general. There are not many services available after hours.

“This concept frees up emergency departments and frees up a lot of police resources. Instead of sitting at the hospital, the general police car can go back out and fight crime which is what they should be doing.

“We are the only district doing this full time in Queensland. I am fielding enquiries from all over about our model so it can be replicated elsewhere.”

West Moreton Health clinical nurse consultant Chris Watkins has joined founding co-responder and clinical nurse consultant Janet Brack to respond to police call-outs where mental health might be a factor to provide expert assessment and advice.

“Predominantly it’s about looking after people in their community, in their own homes, and circumventing the need for people to come to the Emergency Department if at all possible,” Mr Watkins said

“It is really important that we let people know that it is OK to reach out.

“It means someone experiencing a crisis is connected to a mental health professional almost immediately.

“You know you have really made a difference when you arrive to find someone who is really distressed and feeling hopeless and they don’t see that things will ever get any better.

“Being really present with them can make a huge difference. Sometimes just talking to someone and being there for them when they need it most is all they need to help get them back on track.”

Before the co-responder program was set up, police would routinely take anyone experiencing a mental health crisis to an Emergency Department because they do not have the specialised mental health training to properly assess a person and establish their needs.

Police alert the co-responder to any mental health-related call-outs and the co-responder accompanies the police to provide an on-the-spot assessment.

“In the majority of instances we find that people can access the services and treatment options they need without going to the Emergency Department. That may mean a referral to West Moreton Health’s Acute Care Team for follow up care or contact with another community support service,” Mr Watkins said.

Co-responder and clinical nurse consultant Janet Brack says there is a direct correlation between the introduction of the program and the number of people taken to the Emergency Department under an Emergency Examination Authority (EEA).

“In the six months before the program was launched, 274 people were taken to an Emergency Department by police or ambulance under an EEA. In the subsequent six months there was a 17.5 per cent reduction in EEAs once the program was in operation,” Ms Brack said.

“In that same period we responded to 316 call-outs, with 28 – or less than nine per cent – requiring an EEA.

“We estimate the presence of the co-responder roughly halves the rate of EEAs.”

If you or someone you know needs access to a public mental health service call 1300 MH CALL (1300 64 2255)

They operate 24/7.

shining a spotlight on ipswich's first responders