Commissioner backs calls for change on mental health response – after warning thousands of police hours are spent dealing with people in crisis

SURREY’S Police and Crime Commissioner says the time has come for officers to stop attending every mental health call-out – after the Metropolitan Police announced an August deadline for incidents that don’t involve a threat to life.

Lisa Townsend, who this month warned that the crisis in mental health is taking officers off the frontline, says she believes all forces should follow suit which would save thousands of hours of police time across the country.

The Commissioner has long backed the introduction of the Right Care, Right Person model which initially began in Humberside.

Commissioner Lisa Townsend speaks about Right Care, Right Person at the NPCC's Mental Health and Policing Conference

It ensures that when there are concerns for a person’s welfare that are linked to their mental wellbeing, medical or social care issues, they’ll be seen by the right person with the best skills, training and experience.

Over the past seven years, the number of hours police in Surrey are spending with people in crisis has almost trebled.

In 2022/23, officers dedicated 3,875 hours to supporting those in need under section 136 of the Mental Health Act, which gives police the power to remove a person believed to be suffering from a mental disorder and in need of immediate care to a place of safety.

All section 136 incidents are double-crewed, meaning more than one officer must attend.

‘Time for change’

In February 2023 alone, officers spent 515 hours on incidents relating to mental health – the highest number of hours ever recorded in a single month by the Force.

And in March, two officers spent a full week supporting a vulnerable person, taking the officers away from their other duties.

Last week, Met Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley gave care services a deadline of August 31 before his officers stop attending such incidents unless there is a risk to life.

Lisa, the national lead for mental health and custody for the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APCC), advocated for Right Care, Right Person at the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s Mental Health and Policing Conference in May.

Commissioner’s call

She said a police response to a mental health incident may cause further harm to a vulnerable person.

“I have spoken out about this time and time again,” Lisa said today.

“Thousands of hours of police time are being taken up dealing with this issue and it cannot be right that police must shoulder this alone. It is time for action in the interests of public safety, and particularly for those suffering from crisis.

“On a recent visit to Reigate, I learned that one care service calls officers multiple times an evening when patients walk past security guards. Elsewhere, in March, two officers spent a full week of work alongside a person in crisis.

‘Police are shouldering this alone’

“This is not an effective use of officer’s time or what the public would expect their police service to have to deal with.

“The pressure intensifies when services better suited to caring for a person’s wellbeing shut on Friday evenings.

“Our officers do a fantastic job, and they should be proud of all they do to support those in need. But it remains that when appropriate interventions aren’t made by the NHS, huge damage is caused, especially to a vulnerable person.

“It is not safe or appropriate to continue this way.”

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