Alarm has been expressed at the prospect of Metropolitan Police officers no longer attending mental health incidents – with critics warning there would be ‘no one left to call’.
The force’s commissioner Sir Mark Rowley has written to health and social care services to say police will no longer attend emergency calls related to mental health 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, with questions raised too about whether it will prove practical on the ground.
A Met spokesperson said that the force needed to ‘redress the imbalance of responsibility’, noting the considerable amount of time taken up by such incidents.
But a former Inspector of Constabulary warned that the change could lead to a ‘vacuum’ in care and create a ‘terrible quandary’ for members of the public.
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’.
Former Inspector of Constabulary Zoe Billingham, who is also chairwoman of NHS mental health services in Norfolk and Suffolk, said that the change was ‘potentially alarming’.
‘I think it would be really, really dangerous if the police were just to unilaterally withdraw from attending mental health crisis calls right now,’ she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
‘I don’t think that that’s what’s on the table, but we need to be careful how this plays out to members of the public because of course come the end of August, if your loved one is in mental-health crisis, there’s going to be a terrible quandary.
‘You’re going to be worried about calling 999 but on the other hand, they will be simply no one else that you can call, because the infrastructure won’t be in place.’
It was a complex issue, she said, and while there were alternative models to reduce reliance on police all required significant investment.
‘It requires infrastructure. It requires resources. And I’d be very surprised if every single mental health trust in London has got all of that up and running by August.’