A safe haven cafe - a facility designed to support people experiencing mental distress - will be opened in Belconnen in November, after call-out data showed there was greater demand for mental health services in Canberra's north.
Mental Health Minister Emma Davidson told an ACT budget estimates hearing there were more call-outs for the PACER service in the Belconnen region, which had led the ACT government to locate the new safe haven cafe at the Belconnen Community Health Centre, where the Commonwealth government would also fund a Head to Health mental health facility.
The Police, Ambulance, Clinician Emergency Response program - known as PACER - features teams of three travelling in an unmarked car to mental health incidents across the territory. The program aims to help people stay out of hospital and instead provide on-the-ground assistance.
Ms Davidson said the establishment of the cafe was a good example of a community co-design process.
"I'm really looking forward to this service starting and being able to provide people with an alternative to having to turn up to emergency to seek help when they're in distress or for things to become that acute. For people to be able to talk to a peer mental health worker at an earlier stage and feel comfortable asking for that help, getting connected to the right place is going to make a huge difference to them," Ms Davidson said.
The cafe will be run by Stride, a long-running mental health service provider, Ms Davidson told The Canberra Times.
Funding for two safe haven cafe spaces was allocated in April 2020, but the location of a second site in Canberra's south is yet to be determined due to the ongoing masterplan process for the Canberra Hospital expansion.
Ms Davidson told the hearing increased access to mental health support, such as the safe haven cafe and through an expanded number of PACER teams, would help reduce pressure on acute mental health presentations in hospital emergency departments.
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The opposition spokeswoman on mental health, Giulia Jones, had questioned Ms Davidson and bureaucrats on mental health waiting times in Canberra's hospitals, arguing the wait times were the worst in the country.
Canberra Health Services chief executive Dave Peffer said more could be done to address wait times across the whole health system, rather than just focusing on the emergency department.
"If we have patients present through the emergency departments in the territory, true emergency department patients, 100 per cent of them are seen within a clinically recommended time frame. As we move through to lower acuity categories, the patients presenting, that's obviously where we need to do some work," Mr Peffer said.
The 2021 ACT budget included an extra $57 million for mental health and community healthcare, including $43 million over four years to add 10 more acute mental health inpatient beds at the Canberra Hospital.
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