Merseyside's Police Commissioner has today responded to an independent report which has highlighted that the police are having to “pick up the pieces of a broken mental health system” on top of tackling crime.
Jane Kennedy has welcomed the report by Her Majesty's Inspectorate for Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Service 'Policing and Mental Health - picking up the pieces' which has found that the police has become the default service in responding to people with mental health problems.
Responding to the report, Jane said: “The police will never turn away from someone who needs their help, and officers are very often the first to respond to those in crisis. But, as inspectors have made clear in this report, police are being asked to step in when other services have not attended.
“It is a sad fact that 20% of all calls to Merseyside Police are now mental health related. This places a massive strain on the organisation. The Force work very hard to find ways to continually improve the care they offer to people who are often at their lowest ebb. I was particularly pleased to see the work of Merseyside’s mental health triage cars recognised as best practice.
“The reality is however, that if other services were sufficiently resourced, officers and staff would not need to be deployed in this way to the extent that they are. I hope ministers will pay close attention to the findings of this report.”
Following publication of the report, Merseyside Police Deputy Chief Constable Serena Kennedy, said: "The findings of the HMICFRS are testimony to the hard work carried out by officers and staff in all of our communities, and within our specialist Public Protection Unit.
"On a daily basis, we support those with vulnerabilities who may be at risk of harm, listening to and acting on problems and concerns with consideration and compassion.
"Dealing with people suffering from mental health issues is a massive part of this work, and as the report highlights, accounts for 20% of all demand on Merseyside Police.
"With that in mind, and against a backdrop of officer reductions, it is imperative that we continue to develop innovative and economical schemes to support vulnerable people, working closely alongside our key partners in the NHS and elsewhere.
“The triage car service, highlighted as national best practice, is one such scheme. Since 2014, this service has brought about 40% reduction in patients detained under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act. This work is continually being reviewed and developed by highly skilled officers and staff, and for it to be recognised as national best practice is very pleasing.
“But we are never complacent and our highly skilled officers and staff working will continually work to improve the response to vulnerable people across Merseyside, so they continue to receive the best possible support and service.”
HMI Zoë Billingham who led the inspection said: “Police officers naturally want to respond and do their best to support vulnerable people when they ask for help. And we found that police officers respond to those 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. 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.
“People in crisis with mental health problems need expert support – support that can’t be carried out in the back of a police car or by locking them into a police cell.
“All too often, the system is failing people when they most need help. This is not a problem that the police alone can solve. Other services need to stop relying on the 24/7 availability of the police.
“We have grave concerns about whether the police should be involved in responding to mental health problems to the degree they are. Fundamental change is needed urgently in the way those with mental health problems are supported by the state. The police should be the last resort, not the first port of call.”
Read the HMICFRS report here.