People seeking mental health care forced into getting help from police “is unacceptable”

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) has released a report into policing and mental health. Mind was involved with the report –  ‘Policing and Mental Health – Picking Up the Pieces’ – by being part of the reference group.

Responding to the findings, Geoff Heyes, Head of Health Policy and Influencing at Mind, said:“We welcome this report, particularly the acknowledgement that many people seeking mental health care have to turn to the police to access it because mental health services are so stretched. This is unacceptable.

“Our police services do a hugely challenging job day in, day out, and it can be difficult dealing with vulnerable people who reach crisis in a public place. We share the report’s call for people with mental health problems to get appropriate help as early as possible to prevent them becoming acutely unwell – for example self-harming, suicidal or experiencing psychosis.

“Police are often the first point of contact for people in crisis and they have specific powers under the Mental Health Act to detain very unwell people under section. It’s clear that police are plugging gaps created by failings in other services in some areas. The poor levels of access to community mental health services means that too many people end up in police cells because there is nowhere else to take them. Although the number of people detained in cells is decreasing across England, we agree with the report’s conclusion that police cells should never be used for people in crisis. We have long been calling for an end to this practice which we see as inhumane, damaging and criminalising.

“Mental health is core police business, but police can only properly help people with the right support. The NHS needs sufficient resourcing so that people in crisis are treated in a therapeutic environment. Mental health must be prioritised as part of a long-term plan across the NHS, with concrete commitments and significant investment so that 24/7 support is available everywhere.”

HM Inspector of Constabulary Zoe Billingham said the inspection found police respond to people with mental health problems with care and compassion.

“But we cannot expect the police to pick up the pieces of a broken mental health system,” she said.

“Over-stretched and all-too-often overwhelmed police officers can’t always respond appropriately, and people in mental health crisis don’t always get the help they need.

“It is a national crisis which should not be allowed to continue.”

Ms Billingham said other services “need to stop relying on the 24/7 availability of the police”.

She continued: “The police should be the last resort, not the first port of call.

“We are seeing forces attending less other crimes because they are focusing on mental health-related incidents.”

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