Police increasingly attending mental health calls

27 Nov 18

Police are picking up the pieces of a “broken” mental health system as well as increasingly being the first public service on the scene when people need help, inspectors warned.

HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue today called for a “radical rethink” of how to respond to the national mental health crisis and the role the police should play.

Inspector Zoë Billingham said, while police officers were responding to mental health problems with care and compassion, “we cannot expect [them] to pick up the pieces of a broken mental health system”.

She added: “People in crisis with mental health problems need expert support – support that can’t be carried out in the back of a police car or by locking them into a police cell.

“All too often, the system is failing people when they most need help. This is not a problem that the police alone can solve. Other services need to stop relying on the 24/7 availability of the police.”

Billingham called for “fundamental change” saying police should be the “last resort, not the first port of call”. Effective change, however, would require all public services to work together.

The watchdog’s report found that police forces tended to underestimate the number of officers dispatched to deal with mental health incidents and the watchdog urged forces to improve their understanding of the demand presented by mental health and improve training for officers.

In London, the police receive a call about mental health every four minutes, dispatching an officer every 12 minutes.

The top five individual report callers to the Metropolitan Police all have mental health problems and called the force a combined total of 8,655 times last year, costing it £70,000 just to handle the calls.

A survey of the public published alongside the inspectorate’s findings revealed the majority (70%) said the health service should deal with mental health calls, 10% think it should be the council and just 2% believe it is the police’s responsibility.

Responding to the report, Mark Collins, lead for mental health and policing at the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said he agreed too many people were being directed to the police rather than health services.

“It is right that the police are there to protect those in immediate danger, but they shouldn’t become the first point of call for those who need longer term mental health support and access to prevention measures,” he said.

  • Vivienne Russell

    Vivienne Russell is managing editor of Public Finance magazine and publicfinance.co.uk

Did you enjoy this article?