Matthew Scott wants more funding as Kent police chiefs reveal force spends A THIRD of its time handling mental health cases
PUBLISHED: 14:34 02 August 2016 | UPDATED: 14:34 02 August 2016
Kent's police and crime commissioner attended his first governance board meeting alongside the chief constable this week
Kent’s police and crime commissioner says he will make a bid to government for more funding to help officers in their handling of mental health cases.
It comes after police chiefs this week revealed an alarming lack of beds for people suffering from mental illness that are picked up by officers across the county.
Attending his first governance board meeting - an opportunity once every quarter to grill the chief constable - Matthew Scott heard of a worrying shortage, meaning officers now spend approximately a third of their time dealing with mental health issues.
The lack of capacity in the county was so severe, there were even instances of having to transport people as far as Yorkshire in order to be adequately placed and supported, the meeting was told.
Nationally, it is estimated that around six per cent of calls and 20 per cent of deployment time for police officers is as a result of, or aggravated by poor mental health.
But Kent Police’s chief constable Alan Pughsley warned the figures in the county were in fact even higher and continuing to rise.
“The 24/7 nature of policing and ease of access via 999 or 101 [calls] invariably means that Kent Police often becomes the first point of contact for people in mental health crisis rather than the last,” he said.
“It may also be a case of people having more faith in the force and wanting to call us than they perhaps did before.
“The shortage of beds means we have to look after them in custody or in police cars, sometimes for several hours, because there’s just not the capacity elsewhere, and that cannot be right.
“In the past we were taking people as far as Yorkshire to try and find beds so we need to make sure there is sufficient accommodation locally.”
Only in exceptional circumstances, should a police custody suite be used to manage seriously disturbed and aggressive behaviour, the aim is instead to transfer the people in question to the force’s partners who can provide the help and support they need.
Mr Pughsley revealed details of an arrangement Kent Police has negotiated with South East Coast Ambulance Service (Secamb) to transport patients detained under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act.
Ambulances are requested to transport patients around 50% of the time, with the rest of the transportations tending to be made by police officers.
The response time to transport a patient to a place of safety is agreed by Secamb to be 60 minutes where there are no other medical concerns identified or the patient is not being actively restrained and at risk.
However, concerns were raised over the fact that Secamb is the only ambulance trust nationally to aim for a 60 minute response, with all other trusts aiming to respond to non-medical emergency calls in 30 minutes.
“It’s a worry because that means an officer who is dealing with somebody who is at risk of harming themselves or others, they would have to wait another half-an-hour which is a long time,” Mr Pughsley said.
“As a result they have to take custody, but if the response time was only 30 minutes, the officers might be able to wait.
“If the status quo remains, my staff are going to struggle and if a third [of police time] becomes a half, it’s going to get very, very difficult.”
The Conservative Mr Scott, who beat off competition from the likes of Ukip’s Henry Bolton to secure the £85,000-a-year post in May’s election, said tackling issues relating to mental health were a cornerstone of his six-point plan.
“I think it’s absolutely vital that we address it because it’s on the increase and that’s important for two reasons,” he told KoS.
“One, because it’s police time that could be spent on other matters such as being out on the beat or dealing with crimes and investigations but also for the individual as well to make sure they’re getting the support they need when they’re vulnerable.”
A former office manager to Bexleyheath and Crayford MP David Evennett, Mr Scott lives in Swanley with his wife Nina and was the youngest of the six candidates to stand for the role of commissioner earlier this year.
“Getting more beds is just one part of the solution,” he added.
“We do have more awareness of mental health now and more people coming forward as we’ve addressed some of the stigma.
“But we need to make sure that everyone with an interest in mental health who is part of the system does their bit, and I’ve been very concerned that we’ve had cases of police officers spending their entire shift trying to find a mental health bed for someone they’ve picked up early on.
“We can’t continue on that basis because that’s not good for police resources, nor the individual being kept in a police car for that amount of time.”
Mr Scott was positive about the number of potential solutions to what appears to be a growing problem but ultimately, as ever, with the force facing another £33m slash to its budget, a lot of it simply comes down to money.
“There are several things we can do,” he said.
“We can make sure the person is getting the right support - in the force control room we have the Mind [a Kent-based mental health charity] counsellors who are providing guidance to people who are phoning 101.
“There is an issue about the number of safe places that we have for people so the Crisis Care Concordat [a national agreement between services and agencies, such as Kent Police and clinical commissioning groups, involved in the care and support of vulnerable people], are going to put a bid to the Department of Health for funding to create more safe places.
“It’s also about training and awareness for individual officers so they have got the skills and support they need.”
In April of next year, a Police and Crime Bill is likely to come into effect, in which the home secretary will decide the only circumstances when police custody will be used as a place of safety.