Greens-led mental health inquiry hands down final report


The NSW inquiry into community and outpatient mental health care has handed down its report today, making a suite of recommendations to address issues like funding shortfalls and fragmentation, unsafe workloads, and inappropriate responses to mental health emergencies.

The inquiry was initiated by the Greens in July 2023 to hear from people with lived experience and people on the front lines of providing mental health care. The committee is chaired by Dr Amanda Cohn, Greens spokesperson for Health including Mental Health and former GP.

The committee made 39 recommendations in its final report. They relate to better funding and resourcing mental health services, reforming emergency responses to mental health crises, supporting the mental health workforce, and improving system integration and navigation. The NSW Government now has three months to respond to those recommendations.

NSW Police were deployed to 64,000 mental health-related incidents in 2022. Police Deputy Commissioner Dave Hudson has been quoted saying that for many of those incidents, police should not have attended. 43 per cent of critical incidents (which involve a police officer that result in the death or serious injury to a person) over the last five years involved an interaction with a person in mental health crisis. 52 people experiencing mental health distress died in interactions with NSW Police during the past 5 years.

The inquiry examined in detail models used in other jurisdictions, such as the South Australian MH CORE model where Triple Zero calls are referred to a paramedic and mental health clinician who arrive at the incident in an ambulance. From April to June 2023, the MH CORE model attended to approximately 700 calls. For approximately three quarters of calls, the team was able to provide patient care within the community without transport to hospital or engagement with police. At the time the evidence was given, there had been no instances of harm to MH CORE staff.

There was a 21% increase in community mental health patients in the past decade yet funding for those services only increased by 13% in the same period. Community mental health full time equivalent staff per 100,000 population declined from 54.1 to 48.9 in NSW over the past decade.

58,000 people in NSW with severe and complex mental illness are estimated to be missing out on psychosocial support services.

The NSW Labor Government teamed up with the Opposition to water down several recommendations. More details can be found in the media brief or in Dr Cohn’s dissenting statement on 182 of the report.

Quotes attributable to Dr Amanda Cohn, Greens NSW spokesperson for Health including Mental Health and former GP.

“In my work as a GP, it was clear that the mental health system is failing. People who need help do not know where or have nowhere to access care, overworked carers and health workers are burning out, and first responders and emergency departments are being used as a last resort.

“Months of submissions have shown that the mental health system is so under-resourced that it's reactive and crisis-driven rather than able to provide assertive continuous care to people with complex and chronic illnesses.

“The strength of findings and recommendations from this Greens-led inquiry is a testament to both the scale of the change needed in the mental health system as well as the quality of evidence heard by the committee.

“The evidence was both unanimous and compelling that police should not be primary responders to mental health emergencies - from consumers and carers, from service providers, mental health professionals and from the police themselves.

“This inquiry demonstrated how NSW can better respond to mental health crises based on programs already working interstate. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel when we know that a health-led response can be implemented safely for workers, and with much better outcomes for patients and their families.

“It’s gutless for the government to water down recommendations so that they are able to say they’ve been implemented when really, all they’re committing to is ‘exploring’ them.

“This is not the time for further investigation, exploration, or consideration. The time for this reform is now. The Greens will be holding the NSW government to account to ensure all of the report’s recommendations are implemented,” said Dr Cohn.

You can read Dr Cohn’s previous media releases throughout the Inquiry via the links below:

“Mental health is a health problem, not a police problem” hears Inquiry

The NSW mental health Inquiry has heard today about other jurisdictions’ emergency response models leading to better outcomes for people experiencing mental health distress, less strain on health systems, and strong community engagement in regional and rural areas.

“It should never cost the clinician to actually give a shit” inquiry hears

The final hearing for the mental health inquiry has heard that the current mental health care system is failing domestic and family violence survivors and how emergency departments are used as a catch all when there is nowhere else for people to go.

“We have to produce services in a different way” hears Lismore inquiry hearing

The NSW mental health inquiry visited Lismore today and heard about the challenges facing the regional community in accessing quality mental health services.