Special clinics to help officers battling mental health issues as part of BlueHub program

Published by the Herald Sun on 2 March 2020

The head of Victoria’s police union has branded the system to help officers battling mental health issues like “sending soldiers to war without a field hospital”. But there’s a big change coming.

Medical clinics to treat police bearing psychological scars from the job will be established across Melbourne in a landmark project.

It’s the first of its type in Australia and will include a main centre at Parkville and four in outer suburbs.

They will also assist protective services officers and Australian Federal Police.

Police Association Victoria secretary Wayne Gatt, whose organisation is leading the initiative, told the Herald Sun: “This is essential to ensure the ongoing health and wellbeing of our members, who are constantly frustrated by the current lack of appropriate and timely support when they desperately need it.’’

“Our current system is the equivalent of sending soldiers to war without a field hospital,’’ Mr Gatt said.

“It’s putting police and PSOs in harm’s way without a back-up to support them when they invariably sustain an injury.”

The Police Federation of Australia, Victoria Police and Australian Federal Police are also involved in the BlueHub program which could be expanded nationwide if successful.

The Federal Government has pledged $2.5 million for a three-year trial.

Police will have access to a dedicated 1800 phone assistance line with Parkville serving as a priority assessment centre.

Clinics will be located within existing mental health services with medicos specially trained to assist police.

Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton said: “While we cannot always prevent exposure to trauma in policing, we are working hard to ensure that our employees are prepared and supported to minimise the impact of such events.”

“We want all employees to be mentally fit, ready and capable to contribute to a safer Victoria.”

A spokesman for Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said police were at high risk of psychological distress and developing post-traumatic stress disorder.

“The BlueHub will serve employees of all police services across the nation,’’ he said.

The rollout of clinics will begin in coming months with potential suburban sites being evaluated.

Not-for-profit organisation Phoenix Australia, which specialises in post traumatic mental health and has worked with the defence force, will oversee the project.

“We’d eventually like to see this model rolled out across Australia for all policing and emergency services personnel,’’ Phoenix Australia director Prof David Forbes said.

About 60,000 police work nationwide with pressures of the job linked to high rates of suicide and mental health issues.