Force criticised for repeated errors in welfare checks

Lancashire Constabulary has been criticised by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) for failing to respond to a report of concern for the welfare of a woman from mental health practitioners, and referring them to the ambulance service.

Aug 22, 2017

Lancashire Constabulary has been criticised by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) for failing to respond to a report of concern for the welfare of a woman from mental health practitioners, and referring them to the ambulance service. Despite a second call to a customer contact advisor from a friend about the 45-year-old woman – referred to as Ms P – not answering her door, an inspector overturned a decision to deploy officers to her home. Ms P was later found dead at her home in Blackburn, Lancashire, on March 21, 2016, and a post-mortem confirmed that she had died of natural causes. An IPCC investigation found no clear procedures or policies were in place to deal with concerns for welfare, and said this is not the first time it has had to investigate how Lancashire Constabulary deals with these incidents. On March 13, a practitioner from the mental health team called Lancashire Constabulary regarding concerns about one of their service users, as a friend of Ms P’s had been to her address but she did not answer the door. The customer contact advisor – referred to as CCA B – told the practitioner to phone the ambulance service if she had medical concerns about Ms P, and the fire service would force entry if nobody answered. An operational support manager for Lancashire Constabulary told the IPCC of an agreement between the force and the ambulance service allowing them to phone the fire service to gain access to an address, rather than use police resources. He said this may have confused some staff members into thinking police officers would not force entry, but criticised CCA B for not making basic checks and not making a log of the call. Later that same day, a friend of Ms P’s – referred to as witness C – called Lancashire Constabulary to raise concerns that he had not been able to contact her for a couple of days and gave details of her mental health problems. A log was made following the call which read: “Genuine concern for welfare – deployment needed,” but as ‘Inspector A’ reviewed the log, she documented her decision not to continue to try and contact Ms P. Inspector A said she made this decision because Ms P had previously told relatives that she is actively avoiding witness C due to feeling that he is stalking her. She added that she had spoken to her family since the report, and there were no concerns she had harmed herself. The IPCC concluded that CCA B and Inspector A displayed behaviour that “fell below the standards of professional behaviour expected” and they both received written warnings. It also found the force had no clear procedures or policies in place to deal with concerns for welfare and recommended that these be put in place immediately. Lancashire Constabulary has since formalised its procedures for dealing with these types of reports. IPCC Commissioner Carl Gumsley said: “This is a very sad case and my thoughts are with the family and friends of Ms P. “I am conscious that the police receive many calls expressing a concern for welfare each day, however this is not the first time we have had to independently investigate how Lancashire has dealt with reports concerning the welfare of vulnerable people. “I’m pleased that Lancashire Constabulary has committed to improving the way in which it handles such incidents to help ensure these mistakes are not repeated again.” In 2015, the IPCC recommended that the force should review their working practices between local hospitals and the ambulance service, and improve the clarity in its guidance regarding welfare checks. At the time to go to press, Lancashire Constabulary was unable to comment.

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