Po­lice left to pick up pieces amid men­tal health cri­sis

JUST FIVE CALL­ERS RE­SPON­SI­BLE FOR NEARLY 9,000 CRIES FOR HELP TO THE MET

Harefield Gazette - - NEWS - By QASIM PERACHA [email protected]­plc.com @qasim­per­acha

A WATCH­DOG has warned that po­lice are be­ing left to pick up the pieces amid a men­tal health care cri­sis as its re­port re­vealed just five call­ers phoned the Met a com­bined 8,655 times last year.

The force is hav­ing to deal with a men­tal health re­lated call every four min­utes and sent an of­fi­cer to such calls once every 12 min­utes in 2017.

Stretched forces are re­spond­ing to tens of thou­sands of cases that would be bet­ter dealt with by other agen­cies, HM In­spec­torate of Con­stab­u­lary and Fire & Res­cue Ser­vices (HMICFRS) said.

Of­fi­cers are of­ten re­quired to step in af­ter more suitable ser­vices have gone off duty, the as­sess­ment found.

It noted that the “in­tol­er­a­ble bur­den” comes at a time when po­lice are fac­ing de­mands in other ar­eas, in­clud­ing a height­ened ter­ror threat and mount­ing lev­els of knife crime.

HM In­spec­tor of Con­stab­u­lary Zoe Billing­ham said the in­spec­tion found po­lice re­spond to peo­ple with men­tal health prob­lems with care and com­pas­sion.

“But we can­not ex­pect the po­lice to pick up the pieces of a bro­ken men­tal health sys­tem,” she said.

“Over-stretched and all-too-of­ten over­whelmed po­lice of­fi­cers can’t al­ways re­spond ap­pro­pri­ately and peo­ple in men­tal health cri­sis don’t al­ways get the help they need.

“It is a na­tional cri­sis which should not be al­lowed to con­tinue.”

Ms Billing­ham said other ser­vices “need to stop re­ly­ing on the 24/7 avail­abil­ity of the po­lice”.

She added: “The po­lice should be the last re­sort, not the first port of call.

“We are see­ing forces at­tend­ing less other crimes be­cause they are fo­cus­ing on men­tal health-re­lated in­ci­dents.”

HMICFRS as­sessed the re­sponse pro­vided by forces in Eng­land and Wales to peo­ple with men­tal health prob­lems.

Po­lice in­volve­ment could in­clude re­spond­ing to emer­gency con­tacts from con­cerned rel­a­tives or friends, mak­ing wel­fare checks at the re­quest of so­cial ser­vices or GPs, sup­port­ing vic­tims of crime who have men­tal health prob­lems, at­tend­ing in­ci­dents where some­one is sui­ci­dal or search­ing for miss­ing peo­ple.

The full ex­tent to which peo­ple with men­tal health prob­lems place de­mands on po­lice is not fully un­der­stood, the watch­dog found.

It said fig­ures show­ing that 97,796 crimes and 431,060 in­ci­dents were flagged as in­volv­ing men­tal health con­cerns in the year to June 2017 seem “ex­cep­tion­ally low”.

The in­spec­torate flagged up sep­a­rate statis­tics show­ing that, in Lon­don, po­lice re­ceive a call about a men­tal health con­cern once every four min­utes and send an of­fi­cer to re­spond to a men­tal health call every 12 min­utes.

The top five in­di­vid­ual re­peat call­ers to the Metropoli­tan Po­lice all have men­tal health prob­lems and called the force a to­tal of 8,655 times in 2017, the re­port said. It cost the force an es­ti­mated £70,000 just to an­swer the calls.

Half the time po­lice, rather than the am­bu­lance ser­vice, trans­port peo­ple who are de­tained un­der the Men­tal Health Act to a “place of safety”, ac­cord­ing to HMICFRS.

Its anal­y­sis found that the peak time for calls to po­lice for sup­port with men­tal health-re­lated in­ci­dents is be­tween 3pm and 6pm Mon­day to Fri­day.

Not­ing that GP surg­eries, so­cial care and com­mu­nity men­tal health teams “tend to fin­ish work at 5pm”, the re­port said: “Of­ten, as a 24/7 ser­vice, po­lice are the only pro­fes­sion­als avail­able to re­spond be­cause the per­son is in cri­sis ‘out of hours’.”

Ex­am­ples of po­lice step­ping in to fill short­falls in health ser­vices could in­clude trans­port­ing some­one to hos­pi­tal when an am­bu­lance is not avail­able or wait­ing at hos­pi­tal un­til a men­tal health place is found.

The find­ings come amid in­tense scru­tiny of po­lice fund­ing and per­for­mance.

Ar­rests in Eng­land and Wales have halved in a decade, while recorded crime has risen re­cently in a num­ber of cat­e­gories in­clud­ing homi­cide and knife-re­lated of­fences.

Po­lice fund­ing has fallen by 19% in real terms since 2010, while of­fi­cer num­bers have dropped by more than 20,000 over the same pe­riod.

A govern­ment spokesman said: “The NHS has worked closely with polic­ing part­ners to re­duce the use of po­lice cus­tody as a place of safety by 95% since 2011/12.

“We are in­vest­ing £2 bil­lion in men­tal health ser­vices, in­clud­ing men­tal health li­ai­son in A&E de­part­ments, and com­mu­nity cri­sis ser­vices, and NHS Eng­land will shortly be set­ting out its pro­pos­als to im­prove all men­tal health ser­vices in the long-term plan.

“Po­lice of­fi­cers do an ex­cel­lent job pro­tect­ing those fac­ing men­tal health prob­lems in of­ten dif­fi­cult and dis­tress­ing cir­cum­stances and it is right that this re­port ac­knowl­edges po­lice lead­er­ship in this area to be strong.”

Dr Paul Lel­liott, lead for men­tal health at the Care Qual­ity Com­mis­sion, said: “Peo­ple ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a cri­sis with their men­tal health need ex­pert and prompt help. All too of­ten this isn’t avail­able at the time and place that they need it.

“Although po­lice of­fi­cers gen­er­ally do a good job in iden­ti­fy­ing and re­spond­ing to those with men­tal health prob­lems, they must never be con­sid­ered a sub­sti­tute for ex­pertly trained health­care pro­fes­sion­als.”

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