St George PACER program success prompts government expansion

The award-winning PACER (Police Ambulance and Clinical Early Response) Program, successfully run by the St George Mental Health Service since 2018, will be rolled out to other local health districts and police command areas throughout NSW.

NSW Minister for Mental Health, Bronnie Taylor MLC, and Minister for Police, David Elliot, last week announced that $6.1million has been committed to employing 36 specialist mental health clinicians across 12 Police Area Commands.

The Ministers made this announcement at an event attended by three SESLHD staff, who have all played a role in the pilot program in the St George region. The PACER program implemented by St George Mental Health Service and run in conjunction with St George Police Local Area Command has been highly successful and won a NSW Health Award in 2019.

Fiona I’Anson, Clinical Nurse Consultant, St George Mental Health Service, said PACER provided an on-scene, timely response to people experiencing a mental health emergency.

“We attend the scene when people are in a time of crisis. This can be anywhere from their own home to community locations, schools, workplaces, or in the police station,” Ms I’Anson said.

“Allowing people the opportunity to have a thorough mental health assessment in a place where they feel comfortable and supported provides a far more positive and less restrictive experience than needing to be transported to an emergency department, often having been detained under the NSW Mental Health Act.”

Felicity Cox, Senior Occupational Therapist, said feedback on the work of the St George PACER team from individuals and their families had been overwhelmingly positive. 

“Being able to link people directly to the St George Community Mental Health Service, and other appropriate community organisations, enables ongoing support and follow up beyond the time of crisis and often avoids the need for repeated contact with police and emergency services,” Ms Cox said.

Announcing the roll-out, Minister Taylor praised the work of the St George team.

“They’ve had incredible results with significant reductions in emergency department presentations, police and ambulance time on scene, and the community getting more appropriate care,” Minister Taylor said.

“This ground breaking collaboration embeds mental health experts with first responders to support them to appropriately recognise, assess, and respond to psychiatric incidents live at the scene.”

Minister Elliott said police time-on-scene was reduced to an average of 45 minutes during the pilot program.

“That means officers have more time to serve the whole community.  The mental health clinicians also provide support and training for police officers back at base,” Minister Elliott said.

Since the start of PACER, the rate of mental health presentations to the St George Hospital emergency department has reduced by almost 10 per cent. Of over 1500 PACER clinician contacts since November 2018, only 500 have required further hospital-based assessment or treatment.

Pictured: Felicity Cox with Minister Taylor & Fiona I'Anson

Felicity Cox with Minister Taylor & Fiona I'Anson