Surrey police officers spent 515 hours in February dealing with mental health incidents
“Unlike doctor’s surgeries, community health outreach programmes or council services, the police are available 24 hours a day. We have seen time and time again that 999 calls to help someone in distress spike as other agencies close their doors.” Lisa Townsend, Surrey police and crime commissioner
The mental health care crisis is taking away police officers from frontline duties, according to Lisa Townsend, the Surrey police and crime commissioner (PCC).
Townsend, who is the national lead for mental health for the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, said that two Surrey officers had recently spent a week supporting one vulnerable person. In February Surrey police officers spent 515 hours dealing with mental health incidents, the highest number for a single month the force has recorded so far.
In the past seven years the number of hours the county’s officers have spent with people in crisis has trebled, she added: “Unlike doctor’s surgeries, community health outreach programmes or council services, the police are available 24 hours a day. We have seen time and time again that 999 calls to help someone in distress spike as other agencies close their doors.”
A new scheme called Right Care, Right Person, which has been piloted in Humberside could help save police time and get people the care they need more quickly, Townsend said.
The scheme will see the NHS, local authorities, charities and other mental health providers work more closely together. “When there are concerns for a person’s welfare that’s linked to their mental health, medical or social care issues, they’ll be seen by the right person with the best skills, training and experience,” Townsend added.
Other police forces have faced similar demands on resource from mental health emergencies. Last year Sir Mark Rowley, the Met Police Commissioner, said that his officers spent an average of 14 hours waiting in A&E with every mental health patient they dealt with.
The national roll-out of Right Care, Right Person was announced last month by Chris Philp, the minister for crime and policing. At the time he said: “Police officers are of course often first responders, problem solvers and investigators, but they are not for example, mental health specialists. In my view the police should not be expected to fill in for other emergency services where there is no risk to life or safety and where no criminal offence has been committed.”
Philp said the scheme would be applied across the country through a National Partnership Agreement between policing, the Home Office, the NHS, the Ambulance Trust and the Department of Health and Social Care. The Right Care, Right Person approach is believed to have saved Humberside police officers 15,000 hours a year and has been adopted by other forces such as Hampshire and North Yorkshire.
Meanwhile, the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust (EEAST) has launched a dedicated ambulance response car for mental health emergencies
The vehicle is staffed by a clinician and a mental health nurse from the Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust (EPUT).
The NHS said the team, which would be ready for callouts between 1pm and 1am seven days a week, could triage patients to mental health services. Dan Phillips, interim deputy clinical director and consultant paramedic for the EEAST, said: “This will also have the secondary benefit of freeing up ambulance crews faster and reducing pressure on emergency departments.”
Lisa Townsend is the latest police and crime commissioner to draw attention to the way that the crisis in mental health is placing heavy demands on police forces, diverting officers away from tackling crime. The roll-out of the Right Care, Right Person scheme, which has been successful in Humberside, is an innovative approach that should both free up the police to tackle crime and make sure that the person experiencing a mental health crisis receives appropriate support. The dedicated ambulance introduced in the East of England takes a similarly compassionate response, and should also reduce pressure on overstretched A&E departments.