New police and NHS mental health scheme sees reduction in A&E admissions

Schemes to prevent people in mental health crisis ending up in hospital as well as save police vital time when responding to crimes are being piloted across the North West.

It is believed between 20-40% of police time is spent dealing with mental health related calls and incidents, with figures in Manchester peaking during 2021, with more than 38,000 concerns submitted by officers.

Some police chiefs think the reliance on officers is down to a lack of mental health services in the community, with them increasingly being seen as the first resort for people in a crisis.

The Mental Health Joint Response Unit run by Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust and Greater Manchester Police (GMP) involves a mental health practitioner and police officer attend mental health crisis call outs to provide the right support, in the right place.

The team has so far helped more than 2,000 people in just a year, and staff say if a mental health specialist had not been with them 800 of those would have been taken to hospital, with a further 607 detained for their own safety.

The scheme sees a mental health practioner based in a response car with a police officer. Credit: ITV News

The role of the clinician is to assess patients at the scene to ensure every appropriate community-based care option is considered, so that A&E, or an admission to a secure section 136 suite (place of safety) are a last resort for those who really need it.

The service operates seven days a week from 5pm to 1am.

Rachael Osbourne, a mental health nurse, helped launch the scheme in Tameside. She believes working alongside the police helps prevent unnecessary hospital admissions.

Rachael said: "There are nights when there are six or seven jobs happening at once.

"When that happens... we have to decide as a team how to prioritise those calls and what the immediate risk is."

How has it helped?

  • Between 31 January 2022 and 22 February 2023, more than 1,965 people were supported across Bury, Heywood, Middleton and Rochdale, Oldham, Stockport, and Tameside (the 5 boroughs covered by Pennine Care)

  • In that period, there were 800 A&E avoidances and 607 section 136 avoidances

  • The cost per 136-suite admission, across partners, is around £2,030. Based on the 607 reported avoidances it's estimated to have saved £1,232,210. (This doesn’t include the time saved by avoiding an unnecessary A&E trip.)

  • The most frequent outcome was providing mental health advice and support on the scene (504), followed by signposting Pennine Care’s 24-hour helpline (380)

  • Funding has been secured until July 2023, with further discussions underway

  • In 2022, the service was crowned the North West Champion in the ‘excellence in mental health’ category of the NHS Parliamentary Awards. It also won the brilliant partnership award at the 2022 Pennine Care People Awards.

Sean and Rachel work closely together, attending calls outs where mental health is a concern. Credit: ITV News

A similar service is provided by Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust (GMMH) and GMP across the other five boroughs of Greater Manchester – Bolton, Manchester, Salford, Trafford, and Wigan.

In 2022, the three organisations (GMP, Pennine Care and GMMH) supported more than 2,600 people across Greater Manchester.

PC Sean Taylor who has also been involved in the pilot since it started said: "It can get very, very busy but people who are in crisis can't help it, and I personally would much rather they ring and ask for support than struggle in silence."

If PC Taylor was working alone he might have to wait with people in A&E or put them in a cell to keep them safe, but having Rachael on a call out with him means she is able to access health records, give medical advice and make referrals.

"There are many different ways that things could potentially end," PC Taylor added after attending a call out to a welfare check on a woman with a history of self-harming.

"If the police are involved with the ambulance, or without the joint response vehicle, the only two ways we could realistically look at are either a voluntary attendance at A&E or, if she was in a public space, to utilise powers under section 136 if immediate intervention is required.

"In this case we were able to do an assessment and establish if there was any risks and see if there was any support we could offer."

They believe by working together and pooling resources - people in crisis are being offered the help they need as soon as they need it.

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