Ambulance officers divided over mental health powers

Ambulance officers divided over mental health powers

The union representing ambulance officers will meet next week to discuss whether paramedics should be granted the power to apprehend mental health patients and transport them to hospital.

Under draft changes to ACT mental health laws, paramedics would be given the authority to arrest and frisk seriously ill mental health patients.

ACT Ambulance Service.

ACT Ambulance Service.Credit:Graham Tidy

The change is designed to enable paramedics to transport patients to hospital for assessment when it is not considered necessary to call police.

It would also offer legal protection to paramedics involved in emergency situations.


Transport Workers Union official Ben Sweaney said: "The issue is a divisive one. Members' primary concern is with their safety.

"They don't feel that their safety should be compromised by being unnecessarily exposed to a role which is traditionally carried out by the police.

"What we want to see from the Chief Minister is a guarantee that their safety isn't compromised. Also, the members' concern is that [Ambulance] management hasn't been as strong advocates as they could have been.''

Mr Sweaney said some paramedics would be happy to use the apprehension power.

"Some of the membership would like to see their skills increased but to do that you're going to have take on a whole new level of training and there are people who aren't comfortable and feel their liability may be increased unnecessarily,'' he said.

ACT Opposition Leader Jeremy Hanson said he had not been consulted on the proposed changes.

"It's good to make sure the first-responders on the scene can actually act, and have powers to do that, but we don't want a situation where our paramedics are put in harm's way and are potentially doing what police are trained and equipped to do,'' Mr Hanson told ABC radio.

The proposed changes are included in draft mental health legislation that has been released for public consultation. A draft released last year attracted comments from a range of organisations.

The latest draft has a strong emphasis on the human rights of mental health consumers.

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