The police are dealing with increasing demands to intervene with people suffering mental health crises, freedom of information requests have revealed. Some forces across England and Wales have experienced a tripling in mental health requests between 2019 and 2021, data shows.
The findings come as Sir Stephen House, a former deputy Met commissioner, leads a productivity review of policing ordered by the home secretary, Suella Braverman, which is initially focused on mental health pressures on police forces.
Several forces are implementing schemes to reduce the number of interventions they make in cases that could be referred to health services instead.
Under the Mental Health Act, the police are called out to help deal with a situation because someone having a mental health emergency may pose a risk to themselves or others.
Officers usually take the person to hospital for treatment.
Senior officers say the increase highlights the erosion of services for people with conditions such as depression and schizophrenia who end up in crisis.
Labour obtained the data by asking forces to provide the number of 999 calls received that were logged as a mental health-related incident between 2019 and 2021.
Twenty-six forces provided figures showing the number of logged mental health incidents. Forces that provided figures included Gwent, Lancashire, Leicestershire, Merseyside, the Met and North Wales.
Twenty-three of the 26 forces recorded an increase over the two years. In 2019, there were 247,336 cases across the forces that responded, which jumped to 281,598 two years later – a 13.9% increase.
The shadow policing minister, Sarah Jones, said: “It is a damning indictment of this government that they’ve abandoned the police to spend hours dealing with people who should be getting mental health support.”
Some forces have introduced radical interventions to free up officers from dealing with people suffering mental health problems.
The chief constable of Humberside police, Lee Freeman, drew up the “Right Care Right Person” scheme to cut the amount of mental health work for officers.
He has given the health services a year’s notice that police would no longer routinely spend hours sitting with patients in a mental health crisis, or ferry people to hospital.
Several other forces, including the Metropolitan police, are studying it, with its commissioner, Sir Mark Rowley, wanting to reduce the time lost by officers dealing with work that other services should be doing.
Other forces that have introduced a version of the scheme include North Yorkshire and Lincolnshire.
In 2018 Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services voiced “grave concerns” that officers were being called out to deal with mental health-related incidents. It blamed “a broken mental health system” and said the problem constituted a national crisis.
Ten forces provided data to Labour that showed significant jumps in mental health interventions by the police between 2010 and 2021.
Derbyshire police said the number of mental health calls had risen by 1,784% over 11 years, North Yorkshire said theirs had risen by 485%, and Merseyside police’s figures had risen by 463%.
A National Police Chiefs’ Council spokesperson said non-crime incidents such as significant mental health crises and vulnerabilities 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,” the spokesperson said.
A government spokesperson said: “We are investing at least £2.3bn of additional funding a year by April 2024 to expand and transform mental health services in England so that 2 million more people will be able to get the mental health support they need.
“The government is committed to helping the police do their primary job – fighting crime and keeping people safe.”
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Source: The Guardian, 21st February 2023