“The service that can’t say no”

22 November 2018

National Chair John Apter

National Chair John Apter

National Policing Lead for mental health argues urgent action is needed to tackle mental health crisis echoing views of the Police Federation.

At the N8 Policing Research Partnerships annual Innovation Forum, Dyed Powys Chief Constable Mark Collins,  said the police has become the “24/7 default service” as they continue to plug gaps for other overstretched public bodies.

PFEW National Chair, John Apter, said: “One of the police’s primary duties is to protect life and with this they have become the service that simply cannot say no.

“Dealing with vulnerable people takes up a considerable amount of officer’s time, time that could be spent preventing, detecting and solving crime.

“Some officers can see their entire shift consumed hanging around A and E departments or waiting for ambulances or hospital beds, simply because there is no other service available to do so.

“Officers see people at their lowest, when they need the most help and support, and they do so with compassion and professionalism. But they are not medical professionals and for some individuals in crisis the presence of police can exacerbate the situation.

“We cannot be expected to continue to fill the gaps of care in society because other public bodies and organisations can’t fulfil their obligations in terms of supporting vulnerable people with mental health, we cannot continue to be society’s social workers.”

National Mental Health Lead Chief Constable Mark Collins, said: “There are more resources needed in mental health and I think that is recognised. The government, in the recent budget, has given £2bn extra [as part of a £20bn package for the NHS], but some will say that’s not enough and it goes no way to plugging the gap of what’s actually needed for mental health provision.

“It has to be about resources, of course it does, especially in terms of police officers. My control room is often contacted and asked if they can you go and see a particular individual who is in crisis because there is no one else to send.”

The failure of mental health provision was also identified as a significant issue for policing in the Home Affairs Select Committee Policing for the Future Report in October.

Mr Apter continued: “An overwhelming amount of police time is spent responding and dealing with vulnerable people meaning we are not out there solving crime.

“Whilst I recognise the pressures faced by other public bodies, the police cannot be expected to continue to fill this void in our communities, we simply don’t have the expertise or the resources.

“The government needs to make urgent investment in mental health provision and in policing so that our police can continue to police and the most vulnerable people in our society receive the appropriate response and support."