Lancashire Police slash the amount of time they spend on mental health calls as part of new Right Care, Right Person initative
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It comes after the county trialled an initiative designed to ensure those in crisis get the most appropriate support - while also freeing up police resources.
The statistics have been published as the “Right Care, Right Person” scheme is rolled out across England and Wales, where it will operate in the same way as it has in Lancashire - as a partnership between police forces and those NHS services whose primary role is to provide mental health care.
A senior Lancashire officer told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) that responsibility for responding to the population’s immediate mental health needs had increasingly been falling to the police in recent years - in spite of the fact that they were “not fully equipped” for the task.
Assistant Chief Constable (ACC) Russ Procter said that the rebalancing that had taken place during the pilot of the new approach in the county was “the right thing to do”.
“We honestly believe that we are providing a better service and a more consistent service to put people [in touch with] with the right organisation to support them at a time of need,” he explained.
Mental health calls to the Lancashire force have been triaged since the trial began in May 2022. In the 14 months since, 41,254 incidents were dealt with under the scheme, 10,167 of which were redirected towards relevant health services, without any further involvement from the police - saving 4,000 hours of frontline officer time a month.
In those cases, the individuals involved - or those calling out of concern for them - were either pointed in the right direction by the police call handler or referred directly to the NHS for further support, advice and signposting to the “right person” alluded to in the title of the initiative.
ACC Procter said that it had become untenable and “unacceptable” for officers to be spending a “disproportionate” amount of their time on mental health incidents - including having to accompany patients in hospital as they await assessments.
“They should be on the streets responding to crime and disorder,” he said.
However, the top officer denied that the Lancashire force was abdicating all mental health responsibility - and distanced himself from a strategy being adopted by the Metropolitan Police in London, which is reportedly about to introduce a ban on officers responding to mental health calls, except those where there is an immediate threat to life.
ACC Procter told the LDRS that Lancashire Police, too, would always attend an incident in those circumstances - as it would if the mental health-related call was to advise that a crime was being committed.
However, he said the Lancashire force was continuing to go further still in providing a direct response to those in need, beyond answering the phone.
“We will have cars with a police officer and a mental health worker working together to deal with all those incidents which require an attendance by mental health and police.
“We deal with every call and incident on an individual basis [and] we make really clear assessments in relation to vulnerability and crime, to make sure that the right organisation [responds].
“Lancashire Police are not withdrawing from attending to support people in crisis - we will continue to do that.”
The assistant chief constable declined to put a percentage on the proportion of mental health incidents that he believed do require a police response - but accepted there was “more work to do” now that the Right Person Right Place initiative has become a permanent feature, suggesting that the three quarters of calls which are still leading to an officer being dispatched may yet be reduced further.
“If it is your loved one in crisis, we are saying [that the] police is not necessarily the right organisation with the right skills to look after and best support that individual.
“We would advise people ring 111 or contact health [services] for that initial assessment and triage.
“But…if it is an immediate threat to life, then Lancashire Police will continue to deal with those incidents [and] if it is a crisis linked to crime, again, we continue to attend those incidents - and we are the right organisation for you to contact.
“We just want to make sure that communities across Lancashire get the right organisation to deal with them when they are in a place where they are vulnerable or in crisis,” ACC Procter added.
The region's mental health provider, Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust, was approached for comment about how the scheme had so far worked from its perspective.
WHAT THE GOVERNEMNT SAYS
The Home Office said of the Right Care, Right Person approach:
“It is crucial that at the heart of planning and implementing RCRP for people with mental health needs, there is a focus on ensuring patient safety is maintained and people in mental health crisis are not left without support. This means the approach to RCRP implementation for people with mental health needs should be planned and developed jointly through cross-agency partnerships before changes to responses are introduced. Once implemented, locally developed arrangements should be monitored and reviewed over time.
“Implementation should be designed with due regard to the public sector equality duty…[and], in particular, implementation should help support the reduction of people from ethnic minorities in the urgent mental health pathway, who disproportionately experience restrictive interventions and are more likely to access mental health care via the criminal justice system.
“Consideration should also be given to ensuring that the way that each incident is risk assessed against the RCRP threshold is appropriate for individual needs, for example in relation to children and young people, older adults, people with a learning disability and people who are neurodiverse, including autistic people.”
It adds that one of the aims of the approach is to enable “universal access to 24/7 advice, assessment, and treatment from mental health professionals for the public - via the NHS111 mental health option - as well as access to advice for multi-agency professionals, including the police, which can help to determine the appropriate response for people with mental health needs”.
“Plans should be put in place to communicate the availability of this advice to the public and other organisations/professionals locally, who may otherwise call the police as their first point of contact.”