Forces as the ‘service of last resort’ deal with record level of mental health calls

Forces are being left to “pick up the pieces” as NHS services hit by funding cuts are struggling to cope with escalating demands on mental health care across England and Wales.

Aug 29, 2017

Forces are being left to “pick up the pieces” as NHS services hit by funding cuts are struggling to cope with escalating demands on mental health care across England and Wales. Volumes have grown by nearly a third since 2011-12, according to data released under freedom of information (FoI) legislation, and officers fear the demand for help will continue to increase. There has also been a 60 per cent rise in referrals to NHS crisis teams as the College of Policing admits most contact from the public does not need police intervention but a “mental health professional”. And Shadow Policing Minister Louise Haigh warns that the “NHS in crisis” is turning to the police, which is acting as the “service of last resort” – in a role for which it is “wholly unequipped”. The number of calls handled by the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) in which someone was concerned about a person’s mental health hit a record 115,000 in the last year – on average 315 a day, or one every five minutes. Inspector Michael Brown, the college’s mental health coordinator, said a reduction NHS mental health services’ ability to cope was a key factor in the rise in mental health calls to the police, and it was a national trend. “We know there is more demand on NHS mental health services and their funding has been cut,” he said. “We know that there has been a 60 per cent increase in referrals to NHS mental health crisis teams but these services have had a cut in their funding.” In some cases, sick people struggling to find help commit crimes to obtain treatment. A woman on crutches recently walked a mile to break a shop window in Hereford, then called West Mercia Police herself, believing that was the best way to get access to mental health services. Insp Brown added: “Most people in contact with police about mental health issues don’t need the police, they need a mental health professional. “The inability to access a mental health professional is the problem, and that generates a lot of work for the police.” Police use of mental health detention powers across England and Wales will reportedly rise to record levels when the latest figures are published later this year, having hit 28,271 in 2015/16. Ten years ago the power was used 17,417 times, illustrating the growth in demand for police involvement. Forces fear it will be a continuing trend, said Insp Brown. The MPS also expects to use powers to detain under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act much more frequently in the years to come. Commander Richard Smith, head of safeguarding at the MPS, said: “Based on current trends, Section 136 demand is set to double in London in the next ten years as it is increasing by approximately ten per cent each year.” Mr Smith added: “The issues we deal with include those with mental ill health who are involved in crime as victims or suspects as well as people who are in crisis in their home or in a public place.” Nationally, forces believe a significant number of those about whom they get calls are already under the care of NHS mental health services, or have been, which is beginning to have an effect on policing. In West Yorkshire, mental health nurses are being employed in two custody suites to help with people brought in by officers. The force says the number of mental health incidents it deals with every month have risen to 1,300, up from 850 two years ago. Insp Brown added that so called “street triage projects” across Britain, where calls are attended by a mental health expert and an officer, showed that in the majority of cases, police were not needed to resolve the problem. In Lincolnshire, mental health nurses will now work in the police control room to give clinical advice to officers dealing with callers. The MPS figures were obtained by the Labour Party under FoI legislation. The full figures show that in the 12 months up to July 20, 2017, the force received 115,000 calls flagged up on its systems as regarding mental health, up 33 per cent on the volume of calls received in 2011/12. Ms

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