Merseyside’s Police Commissioner has called for urgent investment to address the mental health crisis and to ensure those struggling can access services.
The number of people contacting English mental health services has increased by more than 12% in the wake of the pandemic, with about 1.6 million currently people waiting for treatment.
Emily Spurrell, who helps to lead on the Association of Police and Crime Commissioner’s national Mental Health and Custody portfolio has warned that unless significant investment is made now in community-based services to intervene early and provide treatment, police forces are going to face a further surge in demand and will be left ‘picking up the pieces of the pandemic’.
Speaking of World Mental Health Day on Sunday 10 October, Emily highlighted that this year’s theme – ‘Mental Health in an Unequal Word’ – is more relevant than ever, with urban forces in areas with high levels of poverty and deprivation even more likely to see demand grow.
This includes calls for help to police control rooms, missing from home, suicides and section 136 cases, where a vulnerable individual needs to be immediately taken into care for their own safety.
Crucially, there also needs to be an increase in safe accommodation for highly vulnerable individuals with complex mental health needs to ensure they never have to be taken into police custody.
The Commissioner, who has run two mental health seminars for representatives from St Helens Social Inclusion Network to mark the national awareness day, said significant investment is more urgent than ever.
Merseyside’s Police Commissioner Emily Spurrell said, “It is a sad fact that a significant number of all calls for assistance to Merseyside Police are rooted in mental health issues. These calls often don’t appear in the crime statistics, but nonetheless the police will always respond.
“Merseyside Police is recognised nationally as a leader in this field, thanks in particular to its mental health triage team and its excellent partnership work with Merseyside NHS Criminal Justice Liaison partners. I met with them earlier this week and they are at the forefront of the work to divert people away from the criminal justice system.
“But there are real concerns about capacity if mental health demands continue to surge in the wake of the pandemic. We know the last 20 months has been hugely damaging for people’s mental well-being and calls for support services have spiralled. There has also been an increase in the number of people with no previously known mental ill health seeking emergency support.
“It is vital that this isn’t overlooked when the Government look to manage the NHS backlog.
“There must be sustainable funding to provide and deliver services to keep pace with demand, that step in early when vulnerability is identified and that provide suitable places of safety for those in most need. There must be urgent investment in safe, high-quality accommodation for those with the most acute need.
“It is universally agreed that a police cell is not the right place for a person in mental health crisis. They must get the right support and care, at the right time and in the right place.
“Merseyside Police work incredibly hard to divert vulnerable people away from custody and into healthcare, but it’s important this hard work is not jeopardised by a lack of services and beds as demand grows.
“The Government has been widely warned that this is a looming crisis. They need to act now to ensure the police are not left picking up the pieces of the pandemic and that vulnerable people are not unfairly criminalised.”