The Government has now confirmed that nearly half of all mental health patients admitted to hospital are taken there by the police, rather than by NHS staff. Shamefully, the police are now being expected to pick up the pieces of our underfunded mental health services.
Last year, the emergency services watchdog found that the police take patients to hospital about 12,000 times a year. The Metropolitan Police in London deal with a mental health call once every four minutes and send an officer to deal with mental health cases once every twelve minutes. Merseyside police estimate that 25% of its officers’ time is spent on mental health issues, while Lancashire police calculates that 20,000 hours of response officers’ time, out of 70,000 hours every year, is spent dealing with mental health issues.
In response to this news, the National Chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales has quite rightly told the Prime Minister and Home Secretary that they “should hang their heads in shame”.
People undergoing a mental health crisis need the best possible support and that simply cannot be undertaken by police officers. Cuts to police funding mean that forces are already overstretched and officers, however compassionate and well-meaning, are not mental health experts.
Since 2010, mental health funding has been cut and the number of mental health nurses has fallen by 6,600. It’s no surprise then that the police are now taking on the work of mental health professionals. In contrast, a Labour Government will ring-fence mental health budgets and ensure funding reaches frontline services.
Labour understands that mental ill-health is the biggest unaddressed health challenge of our age. That’s why I’ve called on the Government to investigate how people in mental health crises are affected by travelling with the police, rather than NHS staff.