Support vulnerable people

The burden inadequate mental health funding places
on our police

by Saoirse Osborne

Our Mental Health services are in crisis – support for vulnerable adults who suffer from debilitating enduring mental illnesses is inadequate, and far too often it’s left to the police to cope; these vulnerable people need support for life – they need friendship, security and safety, as do we all. Without this, our whole society is affected. Hammersley Homes offers a solution.

A report from the independent inspectorate of police services has voiced ‘grave concerns’ about the extent to which police are involved with mental health care.

Under the 1983 Mental Health Act, police can be called out because someone with a mental health emergency may pose a risk to themselves or others.   Officers take the person in crisis to a place of safety, usually a hospital.   The report found that in 50% of cases it is the police, not ambulance services, who carry out this task.   Police officers face long waits in A&E with the person in crisis if a bed is not available – in some cases for up to 12 hours.   This has been reported

to take up 40% of police officers’ time – at the cost of the time spent on criminal investigations and making our streets safer. 

It must be reiterated that this is not a criticism of the police.   The inspectorate’s report found that police forces generally respond to those in mental health crises with ‘compassion and care’. 

But this is not their job.   Police officers are neither adequately trained nor properly resourced to support people in mental health crisis.   A mental health emergency cannot be solved in the back of a police car.

Just 2% of the public think that it the responsibility of the police to respond to mental health calls.   Why, then, do the police have to respond to so many mental health calls? A recent report from the Royal College of Psychiatrists found that two in five people waiting for NHS mental health treatment are forced to resort to emergency or crisis services, as their mental ill-health reaches crisis point.   Long waiting lists mean that people feel they have nobody else to call. 

Furthermore, a decade of inadequate funding of preventative mental health service means that mental health problems are only being tackled when they reach the point of posing a risk to the sufferer or others.

Most police forces now use mental health triage, in which police officers have access to a mental health professional or an all-hours helpline.   This has improved the ability of police to respond to mental health crises.   However, there have been concerns that this triage system is being used as a ‘sticking plaster’ to avoid tackling more entrenched problems with the mental health system:  if people are having to call the police in their time of crisis, the system has already failed. 

The problem is growing.   There were a shocking 494,200 police incidents involving mental health issues in 2018 – a rise of 28% since 2014.   Our police are overstretched and people in mental health crisis are not getting the care they need.   Something has to change. 

The kind of supported housing Hammersley Homes aims to provide, which will give those suffering from mental illness safety and security, could go a long way to relieving the burden on police forces.   We also desperately need more funding across the mental health sector, to help resolve mental health crises before the police get involved.

Saoirse Osborne
May 2021