WITH World Mental Health Awareness Day falling today (Thursday) it feels like an apt opportunity to discuss the ongoing work of my office and Wiltshire Police to support those most vulnerable in society.
Often the police are mistakenly associated with only responding to crime, but there is so much more that also falls under their responsibilities including a duty to protect individuals from harm, be it from someone else or themselves.
Approximately one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. Many of these people will not suffer with such poor mental health that they require the services of a crisis team or to use the Bluebell Ward, which is a health-based place of safety in Devizes.
This facility was designed to meet the demands of residents in Wiltshire and Swindon and to replace the two facilities in Swindon and Salisbury, which were previously rated inadequate.
However, for those who do, it offers a critical lifeline in assessing their needs and ensuring that individual care plans are in place with the necessary support. It is staffed to ensure swift assessment with support of S12 doctors and local authority mental health professionals.
It really is an excellent facility specifically designed to meet the needs of those with mental health problems in Wiltshire and this is where my current frustrations begin, at present 54% of those who access the service are from outside our county.
Whilst I absolutely agree that those in crisis should have access to the most appropriate place where specially trained medical professionals are, I cannot fathom that our neighbouring counties do not have the provisions in place to ensure that their residents do not have access to the local medical care they require.
Taking a vulnerable person away from their local area to access mental health support can only be of further detriment.
I recently joined healthcare providers to meet with senior leaders in Bristol and challenge them on how often they are conveying vulnerable people from their city. Our provisions must be a last resort for those in crisis outside of Wiltshire, not a default option.
Mental Health has been a key focus for me throughout my two terms as Police and Crime Commissioner, and I do believe that on occasion, the police are picking up the pieces when it comes to mental health.
That said, when our officers, staff and volunteers are responding to mental health related incidents and concerns for welfare I want them to be as well equipped as possible to deal with the situation.
Frontline staff now receive mental health training, and have 24/7 access to the mental health triage team based in the police control room which is made up of mental health nurses who can access relevant care plans and medical records.
This has meant that police custody has not been used as a place of safety for more two years and that those on the frontline are given the best advice by healthcare professionals on the best cause of action.
However, there is work left to do, and I will continue challenging our neighbouring counties who rely on services designed for the demand of Wiltshire residents because they lack provision locally.
We all have a responsibility to look out for each other before it gets to the point that someone needs to visit the Bluebell Ward, let people who are struggling know they are not alone and be prepared to listen to those struggling with their mental health.
If you need help and support or are worried about someone who does please call the Samaritans on 116 123 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.