Showcasing: Mental Health Acute Assessment Team

Western Sydney

Lead agency
Western Sydney Local Health District 

Living Well domain

  • Providing the right type of care

Program Overview

The Mental Health Acute Assessment Team (MHAAT) provides an innovative approach to better assist people in need of mental health clinical support. The service is a partnership between WSLHD and NSW Ambulance and is designed for people who call 000 and would usually access hospital emergency departments for their mental health issues via Ambulance. 

The approach has allocated a mental health clinician to attend 000 calls via ambulance alongside paramedic staff to provide targeted mental health support through linkage to clinical community services. This provides effective care needed for the person experiencing mental distress and assists by reducing overall wait times in hospital emergency departments.  


In 2013, the Ministry of Health identified that 15% of clients who called 000 for an ambulance required mental health care. Often these patients were transported by paramedics to emergency departments for definitive care (Proof of Concept Discussion Paper, MHAAT 2013).

The project developed an innovative approach to assist people experiencing mental distress to access the services they need without having to access the emergency department. 


Cumberland Hospital, in partnership with NSW Ambulance, implemented an alternate service delivery model called MHAAT.  

The MHAAT service aims to provide the most appropriate care for people experiencing mental distress, minimising inappropriate emergency department presentations and increasing assessment and referral capabilities out of hospital settings.


The introduction of MHAAT has demonstrated a significant reduction in the number of people experiencing mental distress staying in emergency departments more than 24 hours. This is indicative of people receiving appropriate care, including early admission or referral and follow up in the community. 
MHAAT has diverted over 500 patients from emergency departments each year, including presentations directly to a declared mental health facility using least restrictive practices. 


Through a reduction in long stay mental health patients in the emergency department MHAAT has also improved access and flow for all patients in Western Sydney Hospitals. The program was evaluated in 2017 with extremely positive results, 68% of patients that were seen by the MHAAT team were diverted to the most appropriate care avoiding the emergency department. The diversions included direct admissions to mental health acute care units when needed or diversion to community mental health support. As little as 30% of the patients assessed by the team required ambulance transfer and emergency department care due to medical issues needing attention. 

Next Steps

With the initial positive outcomes of the approach, WSLHD look to continue this partnership and deliver the service to its community. The aim is for the MHAAT model to be identified as a best practice approach to assist other regions in NSW to implement alternatives for people with lived experience of mental health issues requiring emergency support with their mental health issues through having access to the right type of care.