HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [10.11 pm]: I rise to talk about the evaluation report of the police and mental health co-response teams. Some time ago I requested this report on notice; it was delayed last week, but I was happy to see it tabled today. I am very keen to at least be able to view the executive summary. I was pleased to hear the news on Sunday that the Mental Health Commission and the WA Police Force are currently in discussions about expanding the co-response teams, I understand as a direct result of that evaluation. I am really pleased that the trial has been so effective. I am not particularly surprised, because I have been tracking this since its inception. I have been speaking to police officers, family members, consumers and practitioners about this for quite some time. I urge the government to make sure it provides adequate resources to expand this program across the state, without diluting the co-response team’s capability.
The trial began in January 2016, following a rapid escalation in the number of mental health callouts to police at the time. The WAPOL statistics of police responses to incidents involving mental health from 2007, reported to the WA coroner during the course of an inquest in 2017, demonstrate how dramatic this trend is. In 2007 there were 4 766 incidents. By 2012 there were 12 552; 18 902 in 2015; and over 22 000 in 2016. Recently reported figures suggest that there were 28 000 callouts for 2017. We are talking about a sixfold increase in these types of calls in just 10 years. Quite frankly, these numbers are staggering. This government and the one before are to be commended for implementing the first trial of this kind in Australia. I note that the evaluation found that, importantly, most of the mental health callouts to police were the result of last-resort calls for help made in desperation; and, importantly, I would like members to know that the majority were not the result of criminal incidents. Further, the evaluation findings suggest that until community members perceive themselves to be able to access relevant mental health services, there will be a continued need to contact the police, who are then compelled to respond to a crisis.
It is really difficult for families in this situation to call the police. They want to ensure that their loved ones are dealt with in a way that will reduce their distress, and that they are supported rather than further traumatised. Because, despite police officers’ best intentions, it can be incredibly frightening for people to be approached by police, particularly if they are in the grip of a mental health crisis. It is in that light that I thought it was very heartening to see the positive feedback from mental health consumers regarding the effectiveness of the co-response teams. In particular, there was a finding that consumers felt empowered for the first time, and described having a voice in the outcome of the incident.
Another really pleasing finding of the evaluation was the dramatic reduction in the number of people taken to hospital after being attended by the police. For those taken to hospital, they found that the processes have become far more streamlined. That will obviously be of great benefit in savings to the health budget, and I think more importantly, for the wellbeing of the person being attended to. We know that emergency departments are not good environments for someone in an acute state of mental distress.
I again note that this program was an initiative recommended in the 10-year mental health and alcohol and other drugs and services plan. Although I again congratulate the government for implementing the program, it would be remiss of me to not reflect on the many aspects of the 10-year plan that have not been realised. I have said to members before that so much work went into that plan. It was developed after the most rigorous of processes, and received bipartisan support. It was intended to be the blueprint for the optimal mix of services required for our growing population, but successive budgets have not provided anywhere close to the resources identified from the very beginning as being needed to be able to realise this vision. In particular, the targets in the plan have called for a significant rebalancing of the mental health system, and the failings to invest in community support and prevention services have been the most notable departure from this plan.
The rapid escalation in mental health callout numbers is a strong indicator of how many Western Australian families are in crisis. Though technically outside the scope of the evaluation, I am concerned to note that consumers in the trial reported being unable to access services that they were referred to by the co-response team. So although this finding was not presented as conclusive, it is very much supported by anecdotal evidence. The need for community support in the 10-year plan—specifically referral pathways—is definitely an area that should be explored in future evaluations.
I also note that the Chief Psychiatrist’s annual report, released last week, highlighted concerns raised by a number of senior psychiatrists and clinicians about the number of people with challenging behaviours, including those with fluctuating psychoses and associated drug abuse who are continuing to fall through the cracks and ending up in our justice system. We need to do a lot more to intervene to ensure that we prevent this from happening.
In any event, it is clear that the mental health co-response trial has been a resounding success. It should form an integral part of the mental health system. However, it is equally clear that other parts of the system are failing and we need to look at significant investment. I acknowledge, as I always do, the poor state of the state’s finances, but we have an opportunity to get this right. There is clearly some really good stuff happening in the mental health space. We need to be able to build on so much more of what has been identified. I am going to flag straight up that a good start, in terms of being able to ensure that we are able to fund things around the 10-year services plan, would be to ensure that 100 per cent of the proceeds from the imminent sale of Graylands Hospital goes back directly into the mental health system; it needs to be completely ring-fenced for that purpose. I understand that a decision is going to be taken by cabinet soon. I urge members of cabinet to seriously consider ensuring that that money goes back completely into mental health. We really need it. We need to be able to build on some of the successes that have already emerged, such as the co-response team.