108 helplines is too many

Last updated 13:03 16/07/2014

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A coroner has recommended the Government push forward with a review of the country's 108 helplines after a woman's early morning "cry for help" went unanswered.

Hastings woman Tracey Ann Ridley, 30, died from a prescription drugs and alcohol overdose, a report released by Coroner Garry Evans today states.

However, in the report Evans ruled he did not have the evidence to conclude whether Ridley's death was an accident or whether she overdosed with the intent to end her own life  - due to her various calls to helplines.

The inquiry details a personal crisis that prompted her to lock herself in her bathroom and start to overdose in the early hours of 28 December 2012. She made calls to her loved ones, who alerted police.

One friend told the inquiry she had called Ridley and was told she had phoned Crisis Line but nobody had answered.
Ridley's brother and police soon arrived to find her unconscious.

Ambulance paramedics tried to save her but she could not be revived and died at her home.

Testimony delivered to the inquiry shows Ridley's loved ones believed she did not want to die, as she had made phone calls to them and to helplines.

However, Evans said police evidence that those calls to helplines went unanswered was a concern as her actions pointed toward ''a cry for help.''

Police told the inquiry Ridley had made a 2.05am phone call to the National Depression Helpline. Three minutes later she called the Alcohol Drug Helpline. The coroner's report said both calls were of short duration and it appeared neither was answered.

A policeman called the Ministry of Health-operated Alcohol Drug Helpline outside its manned hours of 8am to midnight and was connected to voicemail.

A letter to police in the coroner's report from 24/7 helpline provider Lifeline Aotearoa explained its calls were shared among nine centres around NZ, and were answered by volunteer counsellors. 

Lifeline's manager Paula Polkinghorne wrote that call volumes fluctuated and in busy times some calls could not be immediately answered.

She said there were 108 helplines nationwide and recognised the opportunity to reduce that number and streamline the service - if the Government supported the infrastructure.

Polkinghorne wrote that the creation of one national ''wellbeing'' number would be a better option and that Lifeline is already working toward that goal.

A Ministry of Social Development representative told the inquiry that officials were already preparing a review plan which they had been due to present to Minister Paula Bennett by the end of last month. It recommended the Government consolidate the country's helplines.

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Coroner Evans recommended that the review should include a reduction in the numbers of helplines, and that a 24/7 triage call centre be created to sort callers by priority and the type of assistance or advice needed before connecting them to the appropriate service.

- The Dominion Post


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