Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Five mentally ill people called police 8,655 times as officers bear the brunt of mental healthcare crisis

Mental health services and other agencies need to stop relying on the 24/7 availability of the police, a
report has said.

Five people with mental health problems called the Metropolitan Police 8,655 times in 2017, according to a new report.

It is an extreme example of the pressure police forces are being put under because of a national crisis in mental healthcare.

Officers often need to step in because more suitable services have finished for the day, HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) said in a report.

This leaves police with tens of thousands of cases that should be dealt with by other agencies.

It comes at a time when they face their own challenges: increasing levels of knife crime and the ever-present threat of terrorism.

The report is based on the response provided by police in England and Wales to people with mental health problems.

It said police in London receive a call about a mental health concern every four minutes and an officer was sent to respond to a mental health call every 12 minutes.

The calls could be from worried relatives or friends, requests from social services or GPs for police to make welfare checks, missing people, suicidal people or supporting victims of crime who have mental health problems.

HM Inspector of Constabulary Zoe Billingham said other services should stop relying on the availability of police.

"Overstretched and all-too-often overwhelmed police officers can't always respond appropriately, and people in mental health crisis don't always get the help they need.

"The police should be the last resort, not the first port of call."

Police funding has fallen 19% in real terms since 2010 and officer numbers are down by more than 20,000 during the same period.

Chief Constable Mark Collins, the National Police Chiefs' Council lead for mental health and policing, said he shared the concerns raised by the report.

He added: "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."

Dr Paul Lelliott, lead for mental health at the Care Quality Commission, said: "People experiencing a crisis with their mental health need expert and prompt help. All too often this isn't available at the time and place that they need it.

"Although police officers generally do a good job in identifying and responding to those with mental health problems, they must never be considered a substitute for expertly trained healthcare professionals."