90 days from today is Tue, 27 February 2024
26 July 2023
By Margaret Davis and Flora Thompson, PA
Police have laid out plans to drastically reduce the number of mental health callouts dealt with by officers, putting the onus back onto healthcare staff.
Some forces in England and Wales currently attend 80 per cent of what a senior officer termed health and social care incidents, and this will be cut to between 20 and 30 per cent within the next two years.
Patients detained under the Mental Health Act currently wait with police officers for an average of 12 hours before receiving medical care, but under the plans this will be cut to a one-hour handover window.
Policing minister Chris Philp said it is up to each of the 43 police forces in England and Wales along with healthcare boards to work out when and how to put the changes into place.
Britain’s largest force the Metropolitan Police has already said officers will stop responding to mental health callouts from September unless there is a threat to life.
In Humberside a pilot called Right Care, Right Person has seen an average of around 1,400 hours per month of police time saved, which Mr Philp said equates to an estimated one million hours per year nationally if similar savings are seen across all forces.
He said: “The police have been responding to a very large volume of mental health cases, which isn’t of course the best thing for the person concerned because what they need is medical assistance, not a police officer turning up.
“What the National Partnership Agreement does is sets out a framework and an expectation that across the country, police forces will work together with the local NHS, to make sure that people suffering mental health crises get a health response and not a police response.”
Police will respond to cases where there is a public safety risk or a crime being committed, but not to cases such as welfare checks out of hours, or where a patient has failed to attend an appointment.
Mr Philp said he expects forces to use the time saved for more visible patrolling in town centres, faster response times, and more resources for investigating crimes.
A joint task force between police and health officials will be set up to monitor implementation of the plans.
Sue Honeywill, National Board member and Wellbeing lead for the Police Federation of England and Wales, said: “The commitment to protect the most vulnerable in our communities will be reinforced through Right Care, Right Person.
"For too long our officers have been relied upon, when another agency or service would be more appropriate and better placed to offer that care. This program will ensure calls are handled more efficiently by putting the individual at the very heart of decision making and the right care provided by the most appropriate professional.
"We hope this new commitment helps to redress that balance, provide the best service to the vulnerable and enables our officers to focus on core police priorities, which the public expect us to deliver”.
Rachel Bacon, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for policing and mental health, said that officers would always attend where there was a threat to life or someone was in immediate danger.
“Individuals told us that the attendance of police officers when they are experiencing health or social care issues has a negative impact and they feel criminalised,” she said.
“It is often the case that attending officers are unable to provide the services which are needed to resolve the situation effectively.
“There is broad consensus that the police’s primary purpose is to maintain peace and to prevent and detect crime. That is what the public rightly expect us to do.”
Asked about a lack of resources in the health service, Mr Philp said there will be £2.3 billion additional funding per year for mental health services by April 2024, and £150 million to build new facilities.
By March 2024 it is expected that 24-hour mental health crisis phone lines will be in place across England and Wales, and over the next two years funding is being put in place for mental health ambulances.
NHS England’s national mental health director Claire Murdoch said: “It is vital that people experiencing a mental health crisis are given appropriate support and the NHS is committed to working with local police forces and their partners to ensure the right professional responds.
“Health services and police forces should use this agreement to develop protocols that best meet the needs of their local population, including seeking the views of patients, alongside assessing the additional resources they will need to deliver this.”
Mark Winstanley, chief executive of charity Rethink Mental Illness, said the plan was “right in principle” and welcomed the move to bring in the changes over time but added: “It remains unclear how its ambitions will be fulfilled and whether the funding, workforce and resource will be in place to enable a whole sector response that can safely meet rising levels of need.”
Dr Lade Smith, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “It should not be taken as a green light for a unilateral discontinuation of police presence in mental health emergencies.”
David Fothergill, chairman of the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing board, said: “Councils recognise that the police may not always be the most appropriate service to respond to a mental health crisis and so it is good that this is being clarified through this national agreement.
“However, we are concerned that this is being rolled out too quickly, with inadequate local engagement and partnership working meaning that other agencies risk being unable to pick up any increases in demand for their services.”
(with PFEW inputs)