RCPsych reaction to Met police plans not to attend 999 mental health incidents

Statement / comment
29 May 2023

Today (Monday 30 May), the Guardian reported that Sir Mark Rowley, commissioner of the Metropolitan police, has plans to order officers not to attend 999 calls about mental health incidents.

Commenting on the reports, Dr Adrian James, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists said:

“We have a great deal of sympathy with the Met police as their challenges mirror those of the mental health workforce, they are under a huge amount of pressure while at the same time being chronically under resourced. Therefore, while the best solution to many of the issues we both encounter is more resources, we do understand the need to make the best use of those that we have. However, in doing this we must all make sure we do not forget our duty to protect the most vulnerable in our society.

“That is why we are surprised and concerned by the unilateral declaration by Sir Mark Rowley to withdraw the police from attending emergency related mental health incidents, by the end of August. This presents a number of issues and concerns that simply cannot be resolved in this timescale. For example, the police are the only service to hold certain legal powers to convey a disturbed person from public places to a place of safety and so they are likely to always be needed when people are in acute crisis. It is simply unhelpful and impractical to make decisions like these before we have worked out what will happen in some very concerning situations, both for patients with mental illness, but also for the public and police officers alike.

“Mental Health services have been underfunded for decades, and while there are times when the police are involved in situations where they are not the appropriate agency to respond, three months is again just not enough time to put a system like this in place to meet the needs of some of the most vulnerable in society.

“We need better funding and commissioning of mental health services so that there can be proper continuity of care, this will help people to be seen earlier and ultimately reduce the number of those going into crisis. It takes 14 years to train a psychiatrist and there are currently 1.4 million people waiting for treatment, but we can’t create a workforce that doesn’t exist, without funding and an effective workforce plan. Government has been promising to publish a workforce plan for months, even years but it’s still nowhere to be seen.

“There have already been discussions going on nationally to look at this issue and with investment in mental health services and robust planning in collaboration with all stakeholders we can improve the situation for patients and resolve many of the challenges the police face.

“There are already discussions to look at these issues nationally, and we believe the decisions taken by the Met police would be best considered as part of this ongoing dialog, along with NHS Leaders and Government. This is the appropriate framework to improve the situation for patients and resolve many of the challenges the police face through investment in mental health services and robust planning.”

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