'Lives at risk' if Met Police stop attending mental health calls, charity warns

Charities and former Met Police members warn the force's decision not to attend mental health incidents could have dangerous consequences, ITV News' Sam Holder reports

A leading mental health charity has warned people could die after the Metropolitan Police announced it would no longer attend emergency mental health incidents from September.

The force's commissioner Sir Mark Rowley has written to health and social care services to say police will no longer attend after August 31 unless there is a threat to life.

The move is designed to free up officers to spend more time on their core roles, rather than dealing with patients in need of medical help from experts.

But serious concerns have been raised about what the policy change could mean for vulnerable individuals who could face a gap in support.

"My worst fears are that people will lose their lives," said Dr Sarah Hughes, chief executive charity of mental health charity, Mind.

She told ITV News: "I think that people who are in mental health crisis are often experiencing suicidal thoughts, are often in the middle of active self harm, and so it does demand police/paramedic intervention urgently."

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley Credit: Jordan Pettitt/PA

Former Met superintendent Leroy Logan echoed those sentiments, arguing the force must work with other authorities and be part of the solution, rather than distancing itself.

"To pull out now I think is a dereliction of duty. We know there's a mental health crisis, especially since Covid, and we need to have a response. I think it's extreme, it's unnecessary, they're just causing a lot of anxiety."

Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP) president Dr Adrian James believes a number of concerns could not be resolved by the August deadline.

He said: “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.” Dr James said that efforts are needed to make the best use of limited resources as “we must all make sure we do not forget our duty to protect the most vulnerable in our society”. The RCP believes the decisions taken by the Metropolitan Police would be best considered as part of talks with NHS leaders and the government.

A statement from the Met Police to The Guardian said: “Where there is an immediate threat to life, officers will continue to respond.

“In the interests of patients and the public, we urgently need to redress the imbalance of responsibility, where police officers are left delivering health responsibilities.

“Health services must take primacy for caring for the mentally ill, allowing officers to focus on their core responsibilities to prevent and detect crime, and keep communities safe and support victims.”

A Met Police spokesperson told the BBC police spend an average of 10 hours with a patient when they are sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

They said: “In London alone, between 500-600 times a month, officers are waiting for this length of time to hand over to patients, and it cannot continue.

“Police are compassionate and highly skilled but they are not trained to deliver mental health care.”

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Humberside Police introduced a similar policy, known as Right Care, Right Person (RCRP) in 2020, with mental health professionals dealing with calls.

An inspection by His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, Fire and Rescue Services in November found the switch had saved the force – which has mental health workers from the charity Mind in the force control room – 1,100 police hours per month and said the public received “more timely care from the most appropriate care provider”.

The Met spokesperson said the programme had been “hugely successful… reducing demands on all services and, most importantly, ensuring the right care is being delivered by the right person”.

The RCRP programme is designed to be rolled out national, but the commissioner is believed to have run out of patience and believes “the status quo is untenable”.

In his letter, seen by The Guardian, he writes: “I have asked my team that the Met introduce RCRP this summer and withdraw from health-related calls by no later than August 31.“It is important to stress the urgency of implementing RCRP in London.

Every day that we permit the status quo to remain, we are collectively failing patients and are not setting up officers to succeed.”

He continued: “We are failing Londoners twice. We are failing them first by sending police officers, not medical professionals, to those in mental health crisis, and expecting them to do their best in circumstances where they are not the right people to be dealing with the patient.

“We are failing Londoners a second time by taking large amounts of officer time away from preventing and solving crime, as well as dealing properly with victims, in order to fill gaps for others.

“The extent to which we are collectively failing Londoners and inappropriately placing demand on policing is very stark.”

He said the force received a record number of 999 calls on April 28-29, but only 30% of them were “crime related”.