The national lead for mental health in policing, Chief Constable Mark Collins, is calling on the government to match the increased funding for mental health services in England, in Wales.
In an interview with BBC Radio Wales this morning (September 2), Mr Collins, the Chief Constable of Welsh force, Dyfed-Powys Police, described how police officers are being taken away from their core duties to deal with people suffering from mental ill-health.
He said: “Ultimately, the police are here to protect the public, and it is right we respond to some calls from people suffering from a mental health crisis. However, the public wouldn’t expect us to be as involved as we are in supporting people with mental health needs. We have a role to play, but we can’t lead. While police officers are trained to provide support people in crisis, the presence of the police can make some people feel worse, and is simply not in their best interest.
“In Wales, we have specialist teams in place who can respond to mental health calls in the first instance – the mental health triage team in my force deals with 200 calls a week – but once a patient goes to a place of safety or A&E, we can lose a police officer for up to 12 hours while we wait to hand over to the health service.
“This translates to less police officer time to solve crimes, give valuable crime prevention advice, and provide a visible presence in our communities. I’m pleased that NHS England has been given a funding boost of £2.3 billion, but Wales must now be fairly funded to help ease pressure on frontline policing.”
The call comes after Mr Collins revealed police services are spending more than one million pounds on specialist mental health services:
“The four Welsh forces are spending £1.2 million on mental health nurses, who we buy in to give specialist advice. However, this figure does not take in to account the time of the police officers, or hidden costs, such as vehicles used to take people to hospital.
“Mental health calls have increased by 30 to 40 percent in the UK over the last two to three years, and inpatient beds continue to be a problem – there simply aren’t enough beds for mental health patients.
“Improvements are happening though – the use of police cells as a place of safety is reducing year-on-year, and the establishment of mental health triage teams affords us better access to patient care plans, so they can access better support.
“In my force, we are working closely with Hywel Dda University Health Board to tackle local challenges, and in my national role I continue to push for change for Wales, England and Northern Ireland.”