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Mental health and policing

Posted: Friday 1st May 2015
Blog: Blogs

Every morning I begin my day by reading a briefing on the significant incidents and crimes that occurred during the previous 24 hours. During the usual mix of calls for help, new investigations and emerging trends I often read about the police having to care for or look for people experiencing mental health crises. 

No one chooses to have a mental health issue but when they do it’s important they receive the right help. Police officers are not usually the most qualified people to do this. However, they often they find themselves involved if a vulnerable person wants to hurt themselves or others or goes missing leaving family and friends worried. When that happens the police need to be able to quickly access the health professionals who have the skills and experience to help.

With Mental Health Awareness Week coming up later in the month I thought it was an apt time to update you on the work being done to make sure the police are able to access that help and improve the service for people in need. It’s work which builds on a crisis care concordat signed by statutory agencies in December which undertook to work more closely together. Each has drawn up an action plan which I’m convinced will help improve care for people in mental health crises and take some pressure away from frontline policing.

Under the new plans, the Constabulary will later this month stop accepting under-18s experiencing mental health crisis into custody cells. Instead, health agencies must find them a bed in a suitable mental health setting even if it means looking further afield for specialist care elsewhere in the region. This is an important step and I’m sure that before too long we’ll have a similar stance for adults. We’re already encouraging our partners to do all they can to make sure they have enough safe places available.

The way patients are dealt with when the police first get to them is also important. The Constabulary are working with the ambulance service to make sure that police officers receive medical support in the community within 30 minutes if they have had to detain someone experiencing mental health crises. In addition, patients should be transported to a safe place in an ambulance rather than a police car.

The primary motivation for all this is to ensure people in crisis receive the most appropriate support for their needs; they’re patients, not prisoners, after all and don’t belong in a cell. Despite all this effort we need to make sure that actions continue to speak louder than words. Even now police officers are spending their time searching for people who, having been detained in a place of safety, go missing and have to be found. This takes time and takes them away from their regular duties. I’m sure our communities would prefer them to be investigating crime and patrolling on our streets where they can deter criminals and be a reassuring presence for local people. Collectively, we owe it to people in need to look after them and keep them safe while they are in our care.

In a time when all our budgets are under pressure we need to work still more efficiently and effectively together and make sure that we all play our part. We have a good track record in this respect and I have every confidence that by working more closely we’ll continue to make progress.

Until next time,


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