Time for police to stop attending every mental health call-out, says PCC
Surrey’s police and crime commissioner has backed calls for change on police mental health response, warning that thousands of police hours are being spent dealing with people in crisis.
Lisa Townsend says the time has come for officers to stop attending every mental health call-out.
It comes after Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley announced that from September his officers will only attend health-related calls when a threat to life is feared.
Instead, the force will adopt a scheme known as ‘right care, right person’ (RCRP), which has been trialled by Humberside Police, and helped the force save an estimated 15,000 work hours a year by passing mental health calls to other services.
Ms Townsend, who earlier this month warned that the crisis in mental health was taking officers off the front line, says she believes all forces should follow suit, which would save thousands of hours of police time across the country.
She has long backed the introduction of the RCRP model, which ensures that when there are concerns for a person’s welfare that are linked to their mental wellbeing, medical or social care issues, they will be seen by the right person with the best skills, training and experience.
Ms Townsend said over the past seven years, the number of hours officers in Surrey are spending with people in crisis “has almost trebled”.
In 2022/23, Surrey Police 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, said Ms Townsend.
In February 2023 alone, Surrey 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.
The MPS Commissioner has given health and social care services a deadline of August 31 before his officers stop attending such incidents unless there is a risk to life (see https://www.policeprofessional.com/news/mps-to-reduce-mental-health-burden-on-force/).
Ms Townsend, the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners national lead for mental health and custody, advocated for RCRP at the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s Mental Health and Policing Conference in May.
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,” said Ms Townsend.
“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.
“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.”