Police forces across England will, in future, stop attending mental health-related incidents unless there is a significant risk to safety or a crime being committed, and refer cases to health or social care services instead.
The plan, announced today by the government, police leaders and NHS England, constitutes the start of a national rollout of a model – known as right care right person (RCRP) – pioneered by Humberside Constabulary in 2021.
Best practice body the College of Policing has said that RCRP led to a large reduction in the deployment of police resources to mental health or welfare incidents from January 2019 to October 2022 in that area.
The approach would involve police only attending mental health-related incidents:
- to investigate a crime that has occurred or is occurring; or
- to protect people, when there is a real and immediate risk to the life of a person, or of a person being subject to or at risk of serious harm.
The policy will be backed by a toolkit guiding police call handlers in being able to appropriately triage divert mental health calls to the correct service.
There is no set timeframe for its rollout, with the plan stating that police forces should determine this following engagement with health, social care and other relevant partners.
Target to cut Mental Health Act handover times
The RCRP threshold will apply to police attendance at all mental health-related incidents.
After having attended, officers would continue to fulfil their statutory power under section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983 (MHA) to remove a person – generally from a public place – to a place of safety, for a mental health assessment, if they appear to have a mental disorder, are in “immediate need of care or control” and detention appears necessary to protect them or others.
Local arrangements governing police attendance at cases under section 135 of the MHA will continue to apply, said the RCRP plan.
Section 135 empowers a magistrate to issue a warrant, on the application of an approved mental health professional (AMHP), enabling a police officer to remove a person with a mental disorder to a place of safety for assessment. The AMHP’s application must show that there is reasonable cause to suspect that the person has been, or is being, ill-treated, neglected or kept “otherwise than under proper control”, or is unable to care for themselves, in the premises in question.
However, while the two powers would continue to apply, the RCRP plan sets a target for officers to be able to hand over people removed to health services within one hour.
The Metropolitan Police has estimated that its officers spend, on average, 14.2 hours in A&E and 8.5 hours in health-based places of safety, waiting for people to be assessed after they have been detained under sections 135 or 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983 (MHA).
“Currently, there can be significant delays in accessing appropriate mental health expertise and facilities, particularly at evenings and weekends, and when someone is detained under section 135 or 136 of the MHA,” said the plan. “These delays are detrimental to the person with urgent mental health needs and the family or friends supporting them and impacts on police capacity to fulfil wider duties.”
One million police hours expected to be saved annually
Unveiling the plan today, the National Police Chiefs’ Council estimated that the implementation of RCRP would save one million police officer hours a year.
“For too long, we have seen the police step up to respond to non-emergency mental health calls, often spending long periods of time with people when what they really need is specialist medical support,” said the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners’ mental health lead, Lisa Townsend. “The police are not medical professionals, and we should not expect them to be.
“This is why we have launched this new partnership agreement. Moving forward, police and crime commissioners will work closely with cross-government colleagues, police, health and social care partners to ensure vulnerable people receive the necessary support, whilst at the same time freeing up police resources to tackle crime and deliver safer communities for the public.”
Mental health minister Maria Caulfield said: “Anyone going through something as awful as a mental health crisis deserves to know they’ll receive the best possible emergency response. It’s vital the right people who are trained and skilled to deal with the situation are on the scene to assist.”
Caufield said that the plan would be supported by the £2.3bn increase in annual funding for NHS mental health services from 2019-20 to 2023-24, and £150m allocated for mental health emergency care from 2023-25.
However, the news has sparked concern among health and social care leaders, echoing warnings issued last month by the AMHP Leads Network when the Met announced its implementation of the policy.
Rollout too quick – LGA
The Local Government Association said RCRP was being rolled out too quickly.
“Councils recognise that the police may not always be the most appropriate service to respond to a mental health crisis and so it is good that this is being clarified through this national agreement,” said LGA community wellbeing board chair David Fothergill.
“However, we are concerned that this is being rolled out too quickly, with inadequate local engagement and partnership working meaning that other agencies risk being unable to pick up any increases in demand for their services.”
He also raised concerns about social care’s capacity to respond to mental health calls diverted by the police, adding: “Mental health services are funded via councils social care budgets which are already under considerable pressure. To deliver the best care possible for those experiencing a mental health crisis, alternative community services need to be fully funded across the country.”
On BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Royal College of Psychiatrists president Dr Lade Smith said it supported the idea in principle but was “really concerned about the lack of detail”.
“We don’t know about the training people have…it’s quite difficult to tell when someone is going to go into crisis,” she added. “Anybody can go into crisis and that can sometimes happen quite quickly. We are very concerned that there hasn’t been adequate thought about how long this will take to implement and the additional resources that will be required to ensure this is implemented safely.”
After the Met’s announcement last month, the AMHP Leads Network said it was “concerned at the speed at which the Met is unilaterally intending to act” and that the experience from the areas that had rolled out RCRP was that there was a “risk of misinterpretation of the policy” due to “poor knowledge by call agents of the nuances of the law, agreements and duties”.