“We don’t want to treat people with mental health problems as criminals,” said Inspector Hassan Khan, part of the Mental Health Response Service (MHRS) which was launched by Lancashire Constabulary this week.
“We don’t want to put them in handcuffs and in the back of a police van. We want to put them in an ambulance and make sure they’re referred to the right people for help.”
For the next two years, nine NHS mental health nurses will be on the beat with officers across the county, who can make on-the-spot assessments and referrals, rather than vulnerable people being taken into police custody or to hospital.
With one in four incidents the police attend having some sort of related health issue, the scheme is aimed at reducing demand while ensuring people get the right assistance at the first point of contact.
In addition, from August, three more mental health nurses will also be working within the force control room where 999 calls are answered, monitoring calls and offering advice to those reporting mental health related matters.
Insp Khan said: “Lancashire is very much on par with what is seen nationally - about a quarter of the calls that come in are classified by the operator as having a related mental health issue.
“But in reality it’s more than that - we can get to a job that hasn’t been flagged up and find out once we’re there that there are mental health issues.
“What has happened in the past is the person is transported to hospital - sometimes in handcuffs - and the officer has to stay with them, sometimes for hours.
“This new scheme will hopefully streamline this massively, will reduce the tension and will reduce the pressure on us and the NHS.”
Officers have been used to being called out to the same people many times, and it is hoped such vulnerable people can now be referred to GPs and crisis teams at an earlier stage.
Insp Khan added: “We don’t want to keep attending the same people time after time.
“What will happen now is that we will be able to get in early and get that person referred to an early action team or a crisis team, and we can reduce the pressures on us and the ambulance service.
“We had one man ring in emergencies 900 times in four months and he was referred to the early action team and since then there’s been a huge reduction in calls.”
Insp Khan is keen to stress that a person will still be arrested if it is appropriate and if they are suspected of committing a criminal act.
Lancashire Constabulary’s force lead for Early Action, Assistant Chief Constable Mark Bates said: “We receive all sorts of calls where mental health is a factor, from those just calling for someone to speak to because they are lonely and depressed, to people threatening to commit suicide.
“This scheme is about taking action and supporting people at the earliest opportunity to prevent problems rather than responding to them. It means that individuals and families receive the most appropriate, quality support to ultimately build social resilience and create thriving communities.”
This new approach has already proved successful in other parts of the country including Merseyside and Cheshire where they have reported a 90 per cent fall in Section 136 Mental Health Act police detentions. West Midlands have also seen a 70 per cent decrease.
The initiative has been funded by Blackburn with Darwen and Chorley and South Ribble Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCG) and the police innovation fund (PIF), whilst Lancashire Care Foundation Trust are providing the mental health nurses.
Clive Grunshaw, Lancashire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, said: “The Mental Health Response Service will mean anybody experiencing mental health conditions, who comes into contact with the police, will get the right intervention straight away.
“Around a quarter of all police demand has a mental health element to it. It is vital that we work in partnership with other services to reduce that demand, but more importantly, help those who need support.
“Prevention is always better than the cure and by working together we can significantly improve the prospects people with mental health conditions across the county.”