A report by the police inspectorate, which warns that police officers are increasingly being used as the service of default in responding to people with mental health problems, has been welcomed by Warwickshire Police and Crime Commissioner Philip Seccombe.
The review by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) expressed clear concerns over whether the police should be involved in responding to mental health problems but found that, when they did so, officers were “supportive, considerate and compassionate”.
However, according to the inspectorate: “Too many aspects of the broader mental health system are broken; the police are left to pick up the pieces… there isn’t nearly enough emphasis on early intervention and primary care to prevent the need for a crisis response.
“This is letting down people with mental health problems, as well as placing an intolerable burden on police officers and staff. It is a national crisis which should not be allowed to continue; there needs to be a fundamental rethink and urgent action.”
Responding to the report, Warwickshire Police and Crime Commissioner Philip Seccombe said: “This report highlights in stark terms the significant demand that mental health places on the police, who are most often not the most appropriate agency to respond.
“People experiencing a mental health crisis need expert support from medical professionals but at the moment this is often not available, so as a 24/7 emergency service, the police are left to pick up the pieces. This contributes further to the demand on officers – who are not trained mental health professionals – and diverts resources away from frontline policing activity.
“I support the inspectorate’s calls for a fundamental rethink on mental health provision but I am also pleased to see the acknowledgement in the report of the good leadership and governance shown in this area by the police service.
“Improving the situation here in Warwickshire is something that I and the Chief Constable have been working hard on for some time and an enhanced triage system, which would see mental health professionals working with closely with Warwickshire Police, is close to finalisation. This will be a positive step to assisting officers when they do encounter people with mental health difficulties, to ensure that the correct support and provision can be made.
“Equally, I have been encouraged by the willingness of the Coventry and Warwickshire Partnership NHS Trust to join the county’s Blue Light Emergency Services Collaboration Board alongside police, fire, ambulance and County Council colleagues, so we can explore further options for working more closely together.
“The Government’s recent announcement of increased investment in mental health support services is also very welcome news. I hope this will play its part in reducing the unsustainable demand currently being placed on the police service by ensuring that people in mental health difficulties receive appropriate early interventions to prevent them from ever reaching a crisis point.”