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The first port of call and no longer the last.

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We have so many days when its dedicated to a particular campaign or issue… some are serious, others are not . Whilst many are forgettable there are a few which I remember each year. World Mental Health Day is one of the latter. So that’s why this year I decided we needed to mark it locally , more on that later in this article.

Earlier this year I took part in an interview for our local mental health trust 2gether and the CCG ( Clinical Commissioning Group) who decided to do a piece regarding dads mental health. As a dad of two young children , I’ve witnessed first hand the immense joys kids bring, but also the tiredness , exhaustion and pressure it can put on your mental well being.

With that in mind, Martin asked me to be lead for the Office of Police and Crime Commissioner’s approach to mental health.

One of the things that struck me early on in this role (I’ve been Deputy PCC for 2 years now) , was the sheer volume of mental health / vulnerability issues the police are having to deal with. It’s estimated nationally that demand on police forces due to this accounts for between 20-40 % of policing time and resources.

At the recent national Police Chiefs and PCCs conference this graph was shown to demonstrate the increase in demand police forces are facing … you can see its from 4pm when other services pack up for the day.

Political comment from me coming up – cuts to other services are meaning there is less support and in my view the service that is becoming a first port of call rather than the last is the police.

 

Well today the government inspectorate for police and fire, HMICFRS published a report finally acknowledging what Martin and I and many other PCCs & Chiefs have been saying for awhile now … the police are becoming that first port of call.

The report is worth a read.  But even if you only read the summary its worth it, to understand the context of policing at the moment.  Here’ an opening extract to give you a flavour…

The last resort, not the first port of call

In our inspection, we found that the police approach to people with mental health problems is generally supportive, considerate and compassionate.

But we believe there is only so much the police can do to improve the overall picture. This is because, in our view, too many aspects of the broader mental health system are broken; the police are left to pick up the pieces. The fact that almost every police force now has its own mental health triage team indicates that 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.

 

It’s good that central government seems to finally be listening and thankfully we  seem to have a Policing & Fire Minister who gets it, as his recent tweet suggests.

But warm words will only go so far.  With the police picking up this tab, it means they cannot give as much attention to issues the public tell us they care about, whether it be speeding drivers, burglary to tackling anti social behaviour.

But when faced with the choice of either going to find a vulnerable missing person or going to house that has been burgled and the culprit has left, where would you send the resources?  The police not the PCC or the OPCC make those choices every single day because the numbers of officers to meet the demand are simply not there to attend everything that comes in. But if we try and reduce the significant and preventable mental health demand from taking up what is becoming a large amount of police time that will help.

For me through the work that the  OPCC does with the voluntary and community sector, I’ve seen what communities  and organisations are doing to help support people in their communities including people with mental health issues.  When speaking to the public I talk about “Barbra” who was up until last year a frequent visitor to custody before then being sectioned. She would set fires in Gloucester park. She hasn’t been arrested or sectioned for over a year now because she now goes to the Cavern  this is something the Commissioner’s Fund supported early on to make it a reality, its now funded by the CCG. This is a clear example of how we can try and reduce the demand, but as today’s report says at the moment the police are often expected to deal with incidents because professional mental health treatment is not readily available.  This is not a criticism of our local mental health trust 2gether, we have really good relationship with them, but I think underfunding and cuts across the board are hurting.

So with mental heath being a hot topic for policing , this year on World Mental Health Day I wanted to showcase the work we’re all doing around mental health,  but especially showcasing the voluntary sector to the public sector.  So on October the 10th – World Mental Health Day , the OPCC co-funded the annual VCS alliance  event  , I think the event went well:

I hope today’s report by the government inspectorate does lead to more than warm words going forward, because the thin blue line can only stretched so far and the current mental health demands on the police are testing it to it’s limit.

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