Police officers are looking after mental health patients instead of going out on the beat due to a shortage of psychiatric beds in Lancashire, a senior officer has revealed.
In one case this week two officers were employed for 40 hours looking after one patient because no suitable care could be found, according to Assistant Chief Constable Terry Woods.
ACC Woods said demand for mental health services had now reached an “unprecedented point”.
And Lancashire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Clive Grunshaw claimed the force had become “the emergency service of first resort” due to drastic reductions in funding for public services.
“Cuts to other services increasingly mean that the police are left picking up the pieces when people’s lives fall apart,” he said.
ACC Woods took to social media to stress the difficulties Lancashire Constabulary are currently having as they battle to plug the gaps.
He said that on Monday there wasn’t a single bed available in the county.
“We now have six people in mental health crisis with multiple officers caring for them,” he added.
The situation is being mirrored across the UK where other forces are having to deploy officers who would normally be out on the frontline to look after people waiting for places in specialist units.
The latest figures, issued in October last year, showed mental health cases dealt with by police nationally had risen by more than a third in three years from 155,000 in 2013/14 to 215,000 in 2016/17.
Labour’s Shadow Policing Minster Lousie Haigh claimed that forces were “at breaking point” trying to cope with the extra workload of having to act as unqualified mental health workers.
“These staggering figures expose the extent of the rising demand on our police service,” she said. “Senior police leaders are now being forced to speak out because policing has been pushed to breaking point.”
Figures of how many mental health cases Lancashire Police are having to deal with are not available.
But the county’s Commissioner has revealed they form part of “around 80 per cent” of calls the force handles which are not crime-related.
Mr Grunshaw (pictured inset) said: “A large amount of the increasing pressures on police is non-crime demand.
“Demand is also becoming more complex, with calls taking around 37 per cent longer, with increases in missing persons cases and vulnerable adult referrals.
“The police are becoming the emergency service of first resort, at a time when we have had to save over £84m since 2010 with an estimated £18m further to find by 2022.
“We are seeing a continued rise in demand as the Government fails to recognise this growing pressure on the service and the impact of cuts across public services.”
The Police Federation last night threw its support behind ACC Woods, saying cuts to public services had “a huge impact on what we do.”
Lancashire vice-chairman Steve Rothwell said: “It’s commonplace that around the county at all times of day and night we have police officers on bed watches.
“This immediately reduces the frontline strength, ability to deploy to emergencies, other incidents and public visibility.
“On top of this our officers are often acting as ambulances taking people to hospitals. Our armed response units are deployed to serious medical matters because the North West Ambulance Service simply can’t cope either.
“We in Lancashire have examples of officers being assaulted in hospitals when dealing with mental health patients. Recently one was seriously injured in a violent attack by a mental health patient.”
Mental health services in the county are operated by the Lancashire Care NHS Trust which accepted an increase in cases was putting added pressure on the police.
“We are currently experiencing high demand in for mental health services,” said a spokesperson.
“The police play a vital role in responding to people in crisis and we are committed to supporting them in doing this to ensure that people get a responsive service when they are most vulnerable and to reduce the impact on the force.
“There has been a steady increase in the number of people detained under Section136 by the police in Lancashire since January 2018 and we recognise the additional demand that this has put on police resources as well mental health services.
“We will continue our close working with the police to ensure that services in Lancashire are as responsive as possible to meet the mental health needs of our communities.”