How do we tackle the dilemma of mental health demand on policing?

Leading a discussion of many PCC colleagues on mental health demand.

This morning I’ve been in London leading a session for many of my Police and Crime Commissioner colleagues on policing and mental health.

I led on this work for PCCs for five years until last year, and represented us on the independent review of the Mental Health Act that took place some years ago, and the national steering group with the Home Office and Department for Health and Social Care.

The Police have a role to play in mental health – they always have and will. However, at what point does the demand being placed on them become too much, and the agency responsible is held to account?

At the heart of this is an individual in need of assistance, and at that time, whilst it is the case that they get the right support from the right agency, when should it be the police?

The demand comes from many different strands, including crisis, victimisation, vulnerability and cases of missing persons. But in many cases, the Police are still being used as the service of first and last resort.

We will be producing a new paper for government with the different actions that we believe need to be taken to address this, with the vulnerable person at its heart.

We did also discuss the issue of police officers and staff and their own mental health, and what we can do to support them.


HMICFRS (2018), Picking up the pieces: Policing and Mental Health

Independent Review of the Mental Health Act (2018), Modernising the Mental Health Act: increasing choice, reducing compulsion

NPCC (2020), National Strategy on Policing and Mental Health

APCC (2021), Mental Health and COVID 19

Kane, Cattell, Wire (2021), Mental health-related police incidents: Results of a national census exercise in England and Wales

Department of Health and Social Care (2021), Reforming the Mental Health Act

Boosting our mental health, enjoying nature and protecting the countryside

Let’s get out into nature and enjoy what we have around us – and look after the countryside too.

Mental Health Awareness Week is always an important opportunity for us all to talk about this important issue. After a difficult year for so many of us, it remains something that should be at the top of the agenda for Government and society as a whole. We all have a part to play in supporting one another with the nation’s mental health. I’m pleased that the Queen’s Speech included a commitment to doing just this.

Measures will be brought forward to support the health and wellbeing of the nation, including to… improve mental health.

Queen’s Speech 2021

In my last term, I was appointed to the Independent Mental Health Act review, working with experts, charities and professionals from across the health and care sector on getting people the right care from the right person at the right time. Policing will always have a role to play in mental health, but it remains a concern that a lot of police time is spent dealing with it. A White Paper, based on the recommendations of the review, was consulted on by the Government recently. This will take forward proposals on where people can be safely detained and how patients should be conveyed to a place of safety.

In addition, I attended a meeting of the Crisis Care Senior Operational Group, which includes the Department of Health and Social Care, the Home Office and representatives of both policing and health, to discuss a draft proposal to improve the handover of patients by the police to health professionals, which is a key reason for some of the delays that Officers experience.

I’m pleased that we are making progress in this area and that it remains a national priority for action.

The theme for Mental Health Awareness Week itself is connecting with nature, which given the restrictions we have had over the last fourteen months and having to spend so much time at home, is a fantastic idea. You can find nature where ever you are and connect in so many ways. You can get out in to nature or bring it home to you. You can exercise in nature or just take a moment to pause and experience it with all of your senses.

We are so lucky to have nature all around us, especially here in Kent. And we can all give something back to nature at this time, either by recycling more, walking more often, or joining up community clear up groups.

If you do get out in to nature, it is important that we respect and protect our environment too and remember the Countryside Code. Please be considerate to others and your surroundings. Follow the advice provided and local signage as to which routes you can use. Keep your dogs under control and away from animals. And take any litter away with you.

Finally, do remember. You are not alone and it is ok to not be ok. You can call Samaritans any time on 116123.

Here’s how we boost the nation’s mental health after the pandemic

The surge in demand for mental health services has been another consequence of the pandemic that the country faces.

The surge in demand for mental health services has been another consequence of the pandemic that the country faces.

Dr Adrian James, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists described how “as a result of COVID we are now seeing an increase, particularly in some parts of the country, in people attending emergency departments and presenting to crisis mental health services.”

Earlier this year the NHS Confederation reports how mental health services had responded well to the outbreak. Their report ‘Preparing for the Rising Tide’ explains how “mental health emergency departments were quickly set up, 24/7 crisis phone lines were implemented across the country, and services replaced face-to-face appointments with phone and video appointments.”

As Association of Police and Crime Commissioners lead for mental health, I am extremely interested in understanding how mental health demand during the pandemic has impacted upon our police forces. As a result, I have initiated an inquiry with police forces to gather evidence on what the pandemic has meant for mental health demand on policing and what lessons can be learned.

According to evidence submitted to my inquiry, during the early stages of the pandemic and lockdown restrictions, half of police force respondents witnessed a drop in demand from people who would regularly contact them with regards to their mental health. As lockdown restrictions eased, a number of forces observed spikes in demand, some at unprecedented levels for that time of year. Furthermore, several forces shared concerns for an increase in calls from people experiencing mental health problems who had no previous contact ever before.

I firmly believe that agencies must work together to understand the impacts of these initial findings – mapping how, where or if the repeat callers were seeking support instead. A lot of focus was put on domestic abuse and contact from victims. A multiagency approach could yield valuable feedback.

In terms of solutions, ideas such as video appointments and mental health emergency departments have been delivered or expedited as a solution to the pandemic in policing and health services. Many have talked about these ideas for some time – so let’s see the required long-term investment and embed these solutions on a permanent basis.

As is often said, you can go into a hospital with a broken leg and be treated the same day, yet with mental health it can take months for people to get the care they desperately need. Why not speed up assessments and use video routinely to reduce the time the police spend dealing with cases involving mental health and ensure vulnerable people are receiving the necessary support as quickly as possible? We can end the frustration of delays at section 136 suites with such facilities and quicker assessments.

We are also missing opportunities to support people with their mental health. New helplines and text services are fantastic and are giving people who may not have sought help before more options. Community services and charities are helping avoid police call outs.

But are we missing opportunities to promote these more? In the first three days of its launch, ten million people downloaded the NHS Track and Trace app. Should there not be a link to a mental health guide, which would reach millions with very little effort?

Post-pandemic, there is a chance to close the gap between physical and mental health. People are regularly invited to screenings, as well as NHS Health Checks for physical conditions every five years between the ages of 40–74. With the correct long-term investment in capacity, recruitment and training, why not offer the same for people who want to talk about their mental health and have a check-up?

Eat Out to Help Out provided a much-needed boost to the hospitality sector as we came out of the first pandemic. A similar boost to people’s mental health and wellbeing is available as many leisure facilities are offering memberships without joining fees. Is there scope for the government to support such approaches and provide a boost to both people’s well-being and the leisure sector by introducing a similar scheme?

Partnerships with companies that provide pay-as-you-go gym apps could provide free or discounted passes for the first month after the “Tier” structure ends, simply and quickly, for gyms, pools and classes. A taster may encourage more people to get active.

So much has changed and improved over the last ten years, yet we still see vulnerable people suffering with ill mental health come to the attention of the police. I feel passionately that we can all do so much more to improve the nation’s mental health and get people the support they deserve. The forthcoming Mental Health Act White paper is an opportunity to get this right.

This article was first published on 11 December 2020 in the APCC Bulletin.

A ban on the use of police cells as a place of safety

I’m delighted that the Independent Review of the Mental Health Act has recommended what Police and Crime Commissioners and many others have wanted for some time – that police cells should not be used to keep someone safe when they are detained under the Mental Health Act. Continue reading “A ban on the use of police cells as a place of safety”