Mental health professionals to join police patrols to triage people in crisis

Ministers confirm 'street triage' pilot schemes will launch in summer and commit to reviewing quality of ambulance provision in mental health emergencies.

Picture credit: Albanpix Ltd/Rex Features

Mental health nurses will be sent out on patrol with police officers to triage people in mental distress, under pilot schemes confirmed by ministers today.

Ministers confirmed that the ‘street triage’ pilot schemes mooted by the Home Secretary last month will start this summer in a bid to ensure people in mental distress are “dealt with by the right emergency service”. The announcement comes in the wake of a number of high-profile critical reviews of the police and NHS joint response to mental health emergencies.

As part of ongoing work to “improve crisis care” in mental health, the government has also committed to reviewing the provision of ambulance services for mental health emergencies by the end of the year. A recent survey by The College of Social Work revealed that just four in 10 Approved Mental Health Professionals felt that local ambulance support worked well.

An “urgent” assessment of the availability of NHS places of safety – units where patients detained under section 136 of the Mental Health Act by police officers can be taken for assessments – will be completed by mid-July, said the Department of Health (DH). A recent report by the Care Quality Commission and other regulators found that a shortage of places of safety was one contributory factor to over 9,000 people in mental distress having been placed in police cells in 2011/12.

Four areas – North Yorkshire, Devon and Cornwall, Sussex and Derbyshire – will start piloting the street triage scheme this summer and further rollouts are planned. The scheme is based on projects in Cleveland and Leicestershire that have improved treatment and cut demands on police time, the DH said.       

Norman Lamb, the Care and Support Minister, said the schemes were being launched to ensure “people with mental health issues get the right care, at the right time and in the right place”.

“In some areas the police already do an excellent job in terms of their handling of situations involving people with mental health problems and work well with health colleagues to make sure that mentally ill people in crisis get the care and attention they need, but we need to make that the reality everywhere,” said Lamb. 

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