Nurses are to join police officers sent to deal with incidents involving people with mental health problems who were likely to be “sectioned”, under proposals unveiled by the home secretary.
Addressing the Police Federation annual conference in Bournemouth last week, Theresa May said one of the biggest drains on police time was dealing with people with mental health problems.
She highlighted research from Staffordshire that estimated police officers spent 15-25% of their time dealing with people with mental health problems.
“If that’s true across the country, it’s the equivalent of around 26,000 officers,” she said. “This is quite clearly unacceptable.”
Among a number of proposals for tackling the problem, she announced plans that would see mental health nurses accompany police officers to “incidents which look likely to result in a detention under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act”.
“I want to build on the best work police officers and health professionals are doing together on the ground”, she said, noting that the approach was already being used in street triage services in Leicestershire, Cleveland and Scarborough.
“Initial results are showing better outcomes for vulnerable people, quicker solutions for police officers and reductions in the use of Section 136,” she said.
“I want to see the scheme rolled out across the country,” Ms May told delegates, adding that she had agreed additional money to set up four new street triage pilots this year in areas identified by the police.
George Coxon, chair of the Mental Health Nurses Association professional committee, said he was “positive” about the idea because it acknowledged mental health as an “important theme”.
“We still see a lot of stigma and critical ostracizing judgements from ‘non-mental health aware’ front line services,” he said.
He highlighted the importance of more collaborative and partnership working between and across frontline care and response agencies, such as the street triage type pilots.
But he cautioned that “capacity and resource” had to accompany any expansion of the approach, warning that mental health nurses “can’t keep doing more without additional support”.
“Rolling out learning and applying such schemes in other areas needs proper resourcing,” he said. “In a climate of ‘doing more for less’, it is unreasonable to expect already stretched services to deliver extended and increased service without adequate additional funding and capacity.”
Ms May also said she has been working with health secretary Jeremy Hunt on other measures to improve the availability and quality of health-based “places of safety”, where mental health patients could be taken instead of police stations if judged to be a danger to the public or themselves.
These included an urgent assessment of the availability of health-based places of safety, to be followed by an inspection of their quality by the Care Quality Commission and the filling of any gaps in their provision as “quickly as possible”.
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