Metropolitan police will stop attending emergency mental health calls

The Met’s commissioner has decided to bring forward adoption of the Right Care, Right Person model used by Humberside Police

30th May 2023 about a 4 minute read
"It is important to stress the urgency of implementing RCRP in London. Every day that we permit the status quo to remain we are collectively failing patients and are not setting officers up to succeed." Sir Mark Rowley, commissioner, Metropolitan Police

The Metropolitan police will no longer respond to emergency mental health call outs, Sir Mark Rowley, the Met’s commissioner has said.

Rowley has sent a letter to the force’s health and social care partners, informing them that the change will take effect on 1 September. He said the force would still attend call-outs if there was a threat to someone’s life.

In February, the policing minister Chris Philp announced plans to introduce the Right Care, Right Person (RCRP) model nationally. Under this model, pioneered by Humberside Police Force, emergency mental health call-outs are attended by appropriate health professionals, rather than by the police.

Rowley, however, has pre-empted the national rollout by introducing plans to stop police officers attending callouts from the beginning of September. “I have asked my team that the Met introduce RCRP this summer and withdraw from health related calls by no later than 31 August,” the letter says.

Arguing that the status quo was “untenable,” Rowley wrote: “It is important to stress the urgency of implementing RCRP in London. Every day that we permit the status quo to remain we are collectively failing patients and are not setting officers up to succeed.

“In fact, we are failing Londoners twice.

“We are failing them first by sending police officers, not medical professionals, to those in mental health crisis, and expecting them to do their best in circumstances where they are not the right people to be dealing with the patient.

“We are failing Londoners a second time by taking large amounts of officer time away from preventing and solving crime, as well as dealing properly with victims, in order to fill gaps for others.”

The Met is ‘collectively failing Londoners’

The letter cites data from a national police study that says officers spend almost a million hours a year waiting in hospitals for mental health patients to be assessed, the equivalent of attending 500,000 domestic abuse incidents or 600,000 burglaries.

It also states that Met police officers spend 10,000 hours a month dealing with mental health issues, and that it takes up to 14 hours to hand a patient over to medical staff. “To illustrate further the pressing need for reform, on 28/29 April, the Met received the highest number of 999 calls we have ever taken [9,292 calls]. Only 30% of these calls were classed as crime related,” the letter says. “The extent to which we are collectively failing Londoners and inappropriately placing demand on policing is very stark.”

While the government had planned to introduce RCRP model this year, the Guardian reports that Rowley wanted to free up his officers as soon as possible. In the letter, he asks health and social care officials to attend a meeting with one of his top officers and tells them to produce plans to take over the work the Met is now refusing to do: “I would ask that you come to that first meeting able to discuss how your organisation will be ready to respond to RCRP by 31 August.”

There has been some criticism of the Met’s plans. Dr Adrian James, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, told the BBC that Rowley “has obviously decided unilaterally that the Met are going to go it alone” and described the proposal as “unhelpful,” adding: “We don’t have those resources at the current time. We also have a workforce crisis in the health service. We can’t just pluck new members of staff from nowhere.”

In a statement, the Met said: “Work is already underway in London to develop a concordat across health provision and this is very welcome, however in the interests of patients and the public, we urgently need to redress the imbalance of responsibility, where police officers are left delivering health responsibilities.”

FCC Insight

Police forces around the country spend far too much time attending mental health callouts, which often include a police officer spending hours waiting in A&E with a patient, when they should be focusing on fighting crime. Humberside Police has shown that the Right Care, Right Person model can be effective, freeing up the police to concentrate on their core job and making sure that people in mental health distress are attended by appropriately qualified mental health professionals. The difference, perhaps, is that the Humberside force worked for a year with health and care partners to develop the model, whereas in London NHS organisations now have just three months to find the resource to respond to call-outs currently attended by police. This is likely to shine a spotlight once again on the severity of the staffing pressures facing the NHS.