People with mental health issues are being let down, placing an intolerable burden on police officers and staff

A report released today by HMICFRS (Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services) clearly shows the overwhelming demand placed on police services by dealing with people who have mental health issues.

The report ‘Policing and mental health: picking up the pieces’, states that people with mental health issues are being let down, placing an intolerable burden on police officers and staff.

Assistant Chief Constable Jim Nye said:  “We recognise that our partners are working very hard to try to resolve this problem and this is something that we’ve raised with them. Our officers do a fantastic job dealing with people in crisis but a significant proportion of our time is now spent dealing with people experiencing serious mental health issues. Many of them feel their only recourse is to call us as other services are also so stretched.

“We also focus on continued training for our officers, staff and call handlers resulting in them being able to identify people who may have mental health issues and ensure we are offering appropriate support.

“We absolutely recognise that all public services are under pressure but people with mental health problems need better support from qualified experts. Our frontline officers and staff are not medically trained clinicians.”

The report praises the “supportive, considerate and compassionate” way that police forces deal with people who are struggling with mental health but goes on to highlight the critical lack of resources in the mental health system. The main issue is the lack of appropriate care for people, which in turn leads to the police being relied on to provide emergency cover.

Dorset Police and Crime Commissioner Martyn Underhill said: “Today’s report highlights how much mental health issues have become central to policing. Mental health problems will affect one in four of us during our lifetime and it is absolutely right that frontline officers who are the first on the scene when responding to people in crisis have an understanding of these issues.

“I am a passionate advocate for driving forward improvements in this area, and am proud that Dorset Police has a close working relationship with mental health professionals, as well as local authority partners and third sector organisations involved in mental health.

“Our Street Triage Scheme sees trained mental health professionals advising response officers, while embedded mental health staff within custody centres have helped to bridge the gap in services and ultimately better support those in crisis. The Force is also working with partners, to create a suite of operational policies that we all use when dealing with vulnerable individuals in mental health crisis. This sharing of policies means that we all work to deliver the same standard.

“We have been delivering mental health training to our staff, which with partners’ support now includes student officers visiting mental health facilities, and speaking to staff to understand their perspective. I applaud our partners in launching the first Dorset Retreat at Hanneman House in Bournemouth which has reduced police demand hugely, and puts people approaching crisis in the right place at the right time.

“However, this report also demonstrates the additional demand that is now routinely being placed on our officers. To quote the report’s title, police are now being left to pick up the pieces, and overstretched officers across the country sadly find themselves being left with responsibility for some of the most vulnerable people in society, who would be far better dealt with in the hands of other agencies.

“I welcome this report and will be looking closely at the recommendations. Already I can see that some of these, such as seeking the views of people with mental health problems and introducing early intervention work, are key ways to reduce demand and improve service.

“The Retreat is an example of early intervention, and we have also been supported by individual service users within the community willing to share their experiences to allow our staff to learn from this. However, it is vital that Dorset Police and other forces across the country receive proper funding in order to carry out this highly sensitive and important work to the best of their abilities.”

Policing and Mental Health Picking Up the Pieces