Police no longer required to attend mental health call-outs

The crime and policing minister has said that the whole country will adopt the Right Care, Right Person model used by Humberside Police

18th April 2023 about a 3 minute read
"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.” Chris Philip, crime and policing minister

Police officers will no longer be required to respond to calls to attend people having a mental health crisis, the government has said.

There have long been complaints from police forces that officers spend too much time attending mental health emergencies and then accompanying people to A&E. In February, Bedfordshire Police announced it would begin charging the NHS for time spent on unnecessary mental health calls.

In a speech last week, Chris Philip, the minister for crime and policing, said that police should not be a “stopgap” for other agencies. He added: “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 that since his appointment, numerous people, including Mark Rowley, the Metropolitan Police commissioner, had raised the issue of mental health call-outs with him. “The concern was cases that were basically medical, a mental health crisis, where there was no threat to life or safety, either to the individual themselves or the public more widely, were getting passed to policing, rather than being dealt with as a medical or social services incident and taking up a huge amount of police time,” Philp said.

New approach to be rolled out by summer

In future, he said, there would be a new model 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. That model would be based on the Right Care, Right Person approach taken in Humberside, which has been developed in partnership with the local NHS, the local ambulance trust and local authorities. The 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. It involves making sure that the agency answering the call-out is the one best able to meet the individual’s needs. Police officers only attend if there is an immediate risk to life or serious harm to an identified person.

Philp said that this approach also benefits the individual: “If someone is having a mental health crisis, it’s not really that helpful to have a police officer turn up without medical support.”

The agreement would be rolled out in coming months, he said – adding that he hoped it would be in place by the summer. “That’s going to really help the individuals suffering from mental health crises, as well as save enormous amounts of police time that could be better spent protecting the public,” Philp added.

Concern about the amount of time police spend on mental health call-outs have increased in recent months. A freedom of information request by the Labour Party in February showed that in some forces, the number of requests to deal with mental health crises more than tripled between 2019 and 2021. Suffolk Constabulary saw an increase of 342%, Norfolk 260%, Northamptonshire 90%, and Leicestershire 54% in that time period. In response, a spokesperson for the National Police Chiefs’ Council said that mental health call-outs had a significant impact on available resources: “Policing is often seen as the service of last resort, but chiefs must make decisions balancing ever-growing demands. The demands on policing are significant and it is vital that we deliver our own priorities to protect the public and catch criminals first.”

FCC Insight

This move by the government is very welcome. Having to attend mental health call-outs, and then wait for hours in A&E, is not a good use of police time, and it is also in many cases inappropriate for an individual in need of specialist mental health help. The Right Care, Right Person approach used in Humberside is clearly working well, and is freeing the police up to tackle crime and making sure that people in mental health crisis are attended by professionals who can offer them the support they need. At a time when mental health services are stretched, however, we hope that the government is confident that the NHS has sufficient mental health professionals to respond to crisis calls.