The police cannot fix the broken mental health system, a report from HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services has found today.

Police officers are increasingly being used as the service of default in responding to people with mental health problems the watchdog found, and forces tend to underestimate the number of officers sent to mental health incidents.

The report, ‘Policing and Mental Health: Picking Up the Pieces’, said just two per cent of people surveyed felt it was the police’s responsibility to respond to mental health calls, and that 70 per cent said it should be up to health services.

Mike Harrison, Chairman of Gloucestershire Police Federation, said:

“Our members have historically spent a lot of their time transporting to hospital and waiting with people suffering from mental health crisis, when other agencies should step up and be there for people in their time of need. The police were always the go-to for outside agencies, because we were always there.”

However, response officers in Cheltenham and Gloucestershire have been helped by the Mental Health car, Mr Harrison added.

He said:

“It is crewed by a police officer alongside a mental health professional, who has access to all the services and data they may need in the event of a crisis. The car deploys on a daily basis and has reduced the number of Section 136 Mental Health detentions, as the professional is able to assess the person in crisis at the time and ensure the correct level of treatment is secured, be it hospital, home intervention by the Mental Health Services or use of the Mental Health Act. This car has been seen as a real positive step by our members, it gives them greater confidence in dealing with people in crisis, knowing the intervention is there, and that use of Mental Health powers is a last resort. That said, there still needs to be change and other agencies do need to do their bit.”

HM Inspector of Constabulary Zoë Billingham 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.”

To see the report in full, go to: https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmicfrs/publications/policing-and-mental-health-picking-up-the-pieces/