Policing and mental health - Home Affairs Contents

1    Introduction

1. People who experience mental illness, like everyone else, can come into contact with the police for a wide variety of reasons, the common ones being they might be suspected of having committed a crime,[1] they might have been the victim of a crime,[2] they might be reported as missing,[3] or they might experience a mental health crisis, where they may be so ill that their safety, or the safety of others, could be at risk. Lord Adebowale, Chief Executive of Turning Point, admitted that when he was invited to chair the Independent Commission on Mental Health and Policing, he thought mental health would have little to do with policing. In the report published at the end of his review, he said that mental health is core police business.[4] One in four people will suffer from mental health illness at some point, and their illness brings with it a vulnerability that makes it likely they will come into contact with the police. This vulnerability is particularly relevant in a mental health crisis, and when they do so, it should be considered primarily as a health matter, so they can seek and receive support from a mental health team, or if they call 999 to ask for help, the first responders should be health professionals.[5]

2. Unfortunately, mental health services are not always available.[6] The Rt Hon Norman Lamb MP, Minister of State for Care and Support at the Department of Health, has said that only 25% of young people with mental health problems had access to mental health services, services he described as "dysfunctional and fragmented".[7] Mental health services have deteriorated over many years and under successive governments. There is evidence that some people, particularly from black and ethnic minority communities, are reluctant to engage with mental health services if they have previously had a poor experience.[8] This can lead to treatment being avoided or delayed, and people seeking help only when it reaches crisis point.

3. Access to mental health crisis care is limited, particularly at night.[9] Where people do not have access to appropriate emergency healthcare, the police have become the de facto "first aid response to mental distress."[10] Many of the people that come into contact with the police in this way are already known to the health services—as many as two-thirds of those detained by the police under s. 136 of the Mental Health Act are already in receipt of mental health care.[11] And yet the police are not confident they are qualified or the right people to be dealing with such situations.[12] This inquiry is largely focused on what happens in those situations when the police are called to someone in crisis.

Contact with the police

4. Sir Peter Fahy, Chief Constable of Greater Manchester, has described mental health as "the number one issue" for most frontline police officers.[13] Estimates vary, but we were given a range of between 20% and 40% for the amount of police time which involved a mental health element.[14] Custody Sergeant Ian Kressinger of Devon and Cornwall Police, told us that about 40% of the people passing through his custody suite had some kind of illness, personality disorder, depression, anxiety, or were taking medication for something similar.[15] And it was Devon and Cornwall Police Federation who first brought this to our attention when they proposed that health authorities accept their responsibility for the mentally ill, either within their own premises or a Police Station.

5. There is a clear feeling that the police are being asked to do things that they are not trained for.[16] Rt Hon Mike Penning MP, Minister of State for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims at the Home Office and Ministry of Justice, told us that:

    If you have a mental health issue, you will invariably come into contact with the police, as the professional involved. That cannot be right. It is not the job of the police to be that first point of contact; they should be the last resort.[17]

6. Police forces work with all members of the communities they serve. Working with those with mental health problems will always be a core part of that work. However, we are concerned by the extent to which frontline officers are increasingly spending their time helping people with mental health problems. For many people experiencing an acute health crisis, a police officer is not the professional best placed to help them, nor is dealing with acute health crises the best use of police officers' time and skills. We believe that the police should not be filling gaps in mental health services.

1   The Prison Reform Trust estimate that 10% of men and 30% of women in prison have had a previous psychiatric admission Back

2   Mind and Victim Support, At risk, yet dismissed, 2013. People who suffer from mental ill health are three times more likely to be a victim of crime than those who do not, and people who suffer from mental ill health are less likely to report crime. Back

3   See Mental health and missing, www.missingpeople.org.uk  Back

4   Independent Commission on Mental Health and Policing, Report, May 2013; Q 122; MIND (PMH0027) Back

5   Police Federation of England and Wales (PMH0036) Back

6   BBC News, Mental health services a car crash, 24 June 2014. Royal College of Nursing, Frontline First: Turning back the clock? RCN report on mental health services in the UK, November 2014; Mental health services cuts are putting patients at risk, BMA told, The Guardian, 25 June 2014 Back

7   Q 284 Back

8   College of Paramedics (PMH0047) Back

9   Q 7 [MacAttram] Q 196 [Kressinger] Q 152 [Davis]; Police and Crime Commissioner for Cheshire (PMH0033); Self Help Services (PMH0020); College of Emergency Medicine, An investigation into care of people detained under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act who are brought to Emergency Departments in England and Wales, October 2014 Back

10   Q 4  Back

11   Health and Social Care Information Centre, Inpatients formally detained in hospitals under the Mental Health Act 1983, and patients subject to supervised community treatment: Annual report, England, 2013/14, October 2014 Back

12   Q 331 The Police Foundation (PMH0028) Back

13   INQUEST (PMH0042)  Back

14   Q 89 [Michael Brown]; ACPO National Mental Health Policing Lead (PMH0013); Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (PMH0015); BBC, Staffordshire reveals cost of policing mental illness, 15 October 2013 Back

15   Q 194 Back

16   Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (PMH0015) Back

17   Q 318 Back

previous page contents next page

© Parliamentary copyright 2015
Prepared 6 February 2015