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Mental health costing police $37m a year

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 23/05/2017

Police have and always will be a first port of call for some mental health emergencies, Paula Bennett says after Labour claimed officers spend 600 hours a day dealing with people with mental health problems.

The police minister disputed Labour's figures and estimated the hours spent during non-crime related work involving mental health patients at closer to 300 hours a day across the country.

She admitted there was a strain on police resources and hinted at announcements later this week, possibly as part of Thursday's budget.

"When I speak to frontline police officers there's absolutely no doubt that they say that they are attending more call outs where people are suffering from mental health and they're the first port of call," she said.

But Labour leader Andrew Little has stood by figures, released by his office on Tuesday morning, which estimate police spend $36.7 million a year on dealing with mental health incidents.

He says there are 30,000 incidents a year where police are called to non-crime related jobs involving mental health patients.

Mr Little said police were acting because the mental health services couldn't cope with being the safety net for those people.

"Because our mental health service are so stretched we know that a lot of people cannot get the help they need when they need it," he said.

"We know that 25 per cent of people committing suicide have had recent contact with mental health services but clearly haven't got the support they need and the police are often the ones then called out to pick up the pieces at the end of it."

According to a poll that's just been released by the Public Service Association, only one in 10 people think the government is doing enough in the mental health area.

UMR Research carried out the poll and it showed just 13 per cent of respondents thought enough was being done to ensure every New Zealander gets the care they need, when they need it.

Sixty per cent felt the government wasn't doing enough, 22 per cent neither agreed nor disagreed, and five per cent were unsure.

"It is totally negligent for the government to continue denying there is a crisis," said PSA national secretary Erin Polaczuk.

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