Police officers are to be given 24/7 access to mental health nurses to help support the people who are suffering from breakdowns.
A new scheme, which is being piloted in some areas of South London, sees officers given round the clock telephone support from specialist nursing staff to help them make decisions about vulnerable people.
Officials hope the initiative, which is being tested in Lambeth, Lewisham, Croydon and Southwark, will improve the overall experience of those in a mental health crisis and reduce unnecessary police involvement where the person should have been treated by health workers.
“Rather than removing patients from the street unnecessarily, nurses can advise police on other options such as direct referral to our community mental health teams”
The Mental Health Police Triage Service for London is being trailed by NHS England (London), the Mayor’s Office of Police for Policing and Crime, the Metropolitan Police Service, and South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust (SLaM).
The phone triage service is being delivered by SLaM, which provides mental health services in the area and currently has London’s highest rate of detention under section 136 of the Mental Health Act.
The scheme has been developed in response to a number of concerns around policing and mental health that culminated in Lord Victor Adebowale’s Independent Commission on Mental Health and Policing, which highlighted the negative experiences of many mentally ill people in the justice system.
It is similar to a separate scheme that is trialing mental health nurses being based at some police stations and courts. The London Liaison and Diversion pilot scheme launched earlier this year.
Speaking about the new triage service, SLaM chief executive Dr Matthew Patrick said: “It is a positive step forward for our patients and our relationship with the Metropolitan Police.
“It is the first time that police in our boroughs have had direct and rapid access to mental health professionals who are able to respond immediately and offer advice,” he said.
He added: “Rather than removing patients from the street (Section 136) unnecessarily, nurses can advise police on other options such as direct referral to our community mental health teams – where patients are already known to SLaM services – or attending A&E where it appears the person’s presentation requires physical health assessment.
“Although it is early days, we can see that the pilot has had a direct effect on reducing the number of people being detained under Section 136 and is providing patients with better access to the care they need as quickly as possible,” said Dr Patrick.
Kate Davies, NHS England’s head of health and justice commissioning, added: “Many people who come into contact with the police have not committed a crime but are simply ill, and they are often going through some of the most difficult times in their lives.
“This scheme is about supporting police officers to make the right decisions about how to manage these situations, whether that means taking somebody to a place of safety or assisting them in the community with the help of a mental health professional.”