Is it just me or has there been a country-wide surge in the number of mental health or suicide attempt related calls lately?
Normally in my part of the world we expect to be deployed to five or six per set of shifts at the most, but since the rains came there have been dozens of these complicated and protracted calls landing in the deployment lists at HQ. People have been trying to end their lives in ever more inventive ways in their droves. Ironically, with a hosepipe ban in full swing, more people have thrown themselves from bridges into fast-flowing swollen rivers than in any year I can previously remember!
I dealt with three such jobs yesterday afternoon. In the end they took up my entire shift and meant that my inbox was shortly full of unhappy customers who hadn’t seen the Police officer they were promised.
Don’t get me wrong; these protracted calls don’t warrant any less attention or carry any less importance than any others that we receive, but they appear to be the calls that make use of the least efficient processes in any aspect of Police work. Even when the level of self-harm is minimal and is clearly more of a call for help that a legitimate attempt to end a life, three or four hours can be spent accompanying the patient through the local A&E department and waiting for staff to become available to complete a mental health assessment.
In all the cases that I have dealt with in the last few weeks the result of the assessment is a ‘non-admittance result’ from the mental health team and the predictable lift home for the detainee.
I calculated that in the last eight shifts, my team have spent 62 hours in hospitals across the division (total hours for all officers). That’s a week and a half of duty time spent looking after people who have done nothing criminally wrong and who simply need medical and psychiatric care. In the current climate where officers stand to lose £5000 from their salary for doing a role where their warranted powers are not required, surely this is a little hypocritical.
We are there purely to remove, or at least decrease, the risk of a death in Police contact issue. This is a prime examples of how our establishment puts risk-aversion above proportionate use of resources time and time again. We should be focussing our efforts in trying to find a more appropriate system that facilitates the effective care of the patient whilst reducing the need to use Police in such an ineffective way.
Mental Health is a complex beast and those that need help need to be treated quickly and effectively. I do not endorse the Police washing their hands of these people as we clearly have a role to perform. I would argue that the role should, however, be somewhat more focused than it appears to be at present.
I don’t know what the answer to this question might be. Perhaps some of you might have some suggestions…