A Police and Crime Commissioner has warned the dire need for mental health support is outstripping the number of hospital beds available – a problem adding to growing pressures on local police resources.
Last week, Kim McGuinness joined Northumbria Police officers to see first-hand how officers respond to 999 mental health callouts, which continue to soar.
Only an hour into the shift a call came in after parents were worried their son who was hearing voices.
Police attended and were joined at the house by an on-call doctor who said the individual needs to be sectioned under Section 2 of the Mental Health Act but not only were there no beds available in the North East, there were none available in the entire country.
This, the Commissioner was told, wasn’t the first time this has happened.
She also heard about a regular caller who felt they could no longer carry on. It frequently falls on officers to attend, spend time with people in crisis and help they try access specialist support – not easy out of hours.
The Commissioner wants to reveal the true demands being placed on overstretched officers who can spend an entire shift filling the shoes of mental health specialists, as NHS and public sector organisations remain underfunded by Government.
Mental health-related incidents in the Northumbria Police force area have increased by 152% since 2017 and Kim McGuinness is calling for urgent investment in mental health services. The College of Policing also estimates police officers spend 20-40% of their time dealing with such incidents.
Everyturn Mental Health, which works on behalf of the NHS and local authorities, provides crisis services to offer practical and emotional support to anyone in mental health crisis backed the Police and Crime Commissioner’s figures and also said its ‘Together in a Crisis’ service (TIAC) has seen an increase of 109% in referrals since 2022.
Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner, Kim McGuinness, said: “Police officers are being called out and are saving lives – but that’s not fighting crime. It was such a sobering and at times disturbing experience being out with officers attending to calls for concern and this is what our officers see day in day out. They’re dealing with people who need professional help, but our police so often are the first port of call and as I saw for myself – there’s nowhere for them to go. It’s not easy and our officers are doing an amazing job but people in a mental health crisis need to be looked after by healthcare specialists. That’s why Government needs to free up pressure on our police by investing in mental health services. We can’t carry on taking the 24/7 availability of our police for granted.
“The current system is not only letting people with mental health conditions down, but also our police officers, and the safety and wellbeing of our community. Poor funding of our essential services is the problem. The mental health service has faced cuts and our police have faced drastic cuts themselves. Northumbria Police has had £148 million cut out of its budget since 2010. We’re seeing the very desperate consequences of all this now and things need to change”.
Although she said it is not a long-term solution, last month the Commissioner announced plans to work with a local charity to put specialist mental health workers into the force’s 999 call handling centres – so people can help straight away.