Police not attending mental health call-outs ‘puts lives at risk’
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Police not attending mental health call-outs ‘puts lives at risk’

Plans to cut police attendances to mental health call-outs are unrealistic and put patients’ lives at risk, a mental health nurse has warned.

Mental Health Practice. 26, 5, 7-7. doi: 10.7748/mhp.26.5.7.s3

Published: 05 September 2023

Police forces across England and Wales have been told they will no longer need to attend health and social care incidents unless there is a ‘significant safety risk’ or a crime being committed, in a bid to save one million hours of police time.

The Metropolitan Police in London said that from September they will only attend mental health incidents where there is a threat to life.

The plans, announced on 26 July, also mean police officers will have a one-hour handover window when detaining people under the Mental Health Act before they must pass patients onto local health providers. But a mental health nurse who is worried about the impact this change will have on community teams and patient safety told Nursing Standard: ‘It’s not realistic at all. How can they denote what is a mental health call and what is a public safety call? What about the risk to the general public?

‘I understand that the police get frustrated with mental health patients but they are still members of the public that the police have a duty of care for.’

Community roles

The nurse, who recently moved from working in the north west of England to Scotland, added: ‘I feel for colleagues in England – this will affect the nursing teams in community and liaison roles as they will have more work to do if the police are not responding to incidents, but with no extra resources. Ultimately more people will die if they do not get the correct care they need.’

He said a service that combines police, mental health nurses and ambulance staff would be a better solution. A similar model is currently being trialled in Fife in Scotland, which he said has worked well.

Unison head of health Sara Gorton echoed concerns that the plans would intensify pressure on staff and leave vulnerable patients at risk.


Picture credit: iStock

She said: ‘Mental health services are under pressure like never before. Without proper investment, workload pressures and stresses will get even worse for health staff. It makes little sense to rush changes through before ensuring vulnerable people aren’t left in a worse situation and health teams stretched even thinner.’

Policing minister Chris Philp said each of the 43 police forces in England and Wales must now work with their local healthcare boards to determine when and how to put the changes into place.

He said: ‘The police have been responding to a very large volume of mental health cases, which isn’t of course the best thing for the person concerned because what they need is medical assistance, not a police officer turning up.’

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