As of the first of July, the new Victorian Mental Health Act came into being.
It scares the hell out of me.
It apparently out of the blue, at least to on road paramedics, suddenly in effect gives the power to detain and search persons under the terms of the act.
It gives paramedics the power to force entry to facilitate these powers.
Trouble is, paramedics are just not trained to do any of this.
Paramedics are not trained or equipped to force entry into an unpredictable and volatile situation.
Neither are they trained or equipped to search and detain, well anyone really.
This is not a slight upon those who have the misfortune to suffer a mental illness be it drug induced (eg, ice or methamphetamine), such as are the flavor of the month in the media at the minute.
Or the more “traditional” of the mental illnesses, if I am suffering a paranoid psychosis I am fighting for my life as far as I am concerned.
Please take the time to read the story of a recent ambulance case, hopefully to illustrate why these changes scare me so much,
For those outside Ambulance Victoria (AV),”56″ is Police, “DM” is Duty Manager in control room, “RV” is rendezvous and “ESTA” is Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority
“Here’s a true story from today which highlights why we should be concerned about the changes to the Mental Health Act.
This afternoon we were dispatched Code 2 to an unknown event. The case note stated that there was a body at the above address. On responding to the page we were advised that there was indeed a body and that there was the sound of distressed people at the scene, then the phone was hung up. No mention of police being contacted at this stage. In replying I advised the dispatcher that obviously we would require 56 attendance. There was a brief pause then the dispatcher confirmed this.
I then went to the DM channel and was told that 56 would be dispatched and that they should be there soon after us. I advised the DM that we would not be attending without the police and then advised the dispatcher of an RV point.
After approximately 10 minutes at the RV point, 3 police units attended (5 police all up). At this point I spoke to my partner and the Vic Uni student with us, about how police had got exactly the same info as us, yet they deemed it necessary to send 5 fully kitted out and highly trained police. AV however was happy to send 2 ambos and a Vic Uni student into this unknown situation.
On arrival at the scene the police went to the front door and were confronted by an extremely violent and aggressive male who was threatening to harm himself and challenging the police to come in and get him. The male told police that he had made the call to get the ambulance there but that he no longer needed paramedics. The male was known to police and found to have an extremely concerning psych history with threats against police and numerous violent incidents. Police then requested further back-up and a siege type situation developed.
I am actually grateful today that I was dispatched to this job. My concern is that on some occasions inexperienced paramedics will be dispatched to these jobs and they may not have the confidence to question the dispatching or indeed demand assistance when it is not offered or deemed necessary by ESTA. The new Mental Health Act will cause more paramedics to be put into these potentially harmful situations and will result in paramedics being assaulted.
Further I must say that I am not blaming anyone at ESTA for this. This is a consequence of the system and recognition that no one can accurately assess a psych patient over the phone. It is unreasonable for AV to expect the call-takers, DM’s or dispatchers to be able to assess our safety during these short phone calls.
The glaring issue for me here is that police treated this incident as one with a high potential for harm. AV did not. Police got it right. AV got it wrong. So if we cannot accurately assess the level of threat how can we allow paramedics to be sent to these jobs without back-up. And then how can we expect them to force entry and then apprehend these people who we may well know nothing about. It beggars belief.”