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How police stopped taking people suffering a mental health crisis into custody

February 12, 2020
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Nottinghamshire Police has shared how it has taken a different approach to supporting people with mental health issues in the county, following a team of police and mental health professionals’ appearance in a national Channel 4 documentary last night (Tuesday 11 February).

The joint mental health street triage team are a team of specially-trained Nottinghamshire Police officers and Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust mental health professionals who respond to police incidents when members of the public are experiencing a mental health crisis.

As many as one in 20 of all incidents reported to Nottinghamshire Police in 2019 are believed to have involved someone living with a mental health condition, with the issue recognised by the College of Policing as one of the biggest challenges facing UK policing.

Assistant Chief Constable Steve Cooper from Nottinghamshire Police said: “Mental health is an area that many members of the public would not immediately associate with the police, but it is a complex issue that our officers, staff and volunteers contend with as part of their everyday work.

“Every day we are called to support people living with a mental health condition and the demand for a police response as a result is only increasing, so it is absolutely crucial from a human perspective that we do all that we can to provide the best possible support when people need Nottinghamshire Police to be there for them.”

‘A better, more joined-up service for the public we serve’

The joint mental health street triage team was setup in 2014 to provide a more joined-up response to police incidents where a member of the public is experiencing a mental health crisis and is at risk of causing harm to themselves or others.

The innovative approach sees three crews working across Nottinghamshire between 8am and 1am each day, with each crew made up of a psychiatric nurse who works alongside a uniformed officer in a marked police vehicle to provide a more coordinated response when a member of the public is experiencing a mental health crisis.

Since their launch, the team have dealt with over 20,000 incidents and now attend as many as 343 incidents each month. By working together, the team are able to direct patients to more appropriate emergency and ongoing support.

“Nottinghamshire Police’s shared mental health street triage team is just one example of how we are doing things differently by working alongside healthcare professionals to provide specialist support to our front-line officers which, ultimately, helps to provide a better, more joined-up service for the public we serve.

“It is an approach that has undoubtedly improved how we respond to incidents where someone presents with a mental health condition by ensuring that they receive the expert care and support that they need and deserve.”

‘Police custody suites can be incredibly intimidating for someone who is experiencing a mental health crisis’

One of the greatest successes of the team has been in avoiding having to take a patient into a police cell as a ‘place of safety’ using powers within Section 136 of the Mental Health Act.

The team’s innovative, more joined-up approach has helped to ensure that not a single person has been detained in police custody for that reason since February 2019 – a significant reduction since figures peaked at 321 patients being taken in custody between April 2013 and April 2014.

Mr Cooper said: “Police custody suites can be incredibly intimidating places for someone who is vulnerable and experiencing a mental health crisis and we recognised that taking someone into that environment could actually aggravate their condition and make matters worse for all involved.

“The street triage team’s work has been absolutely crucial in helping to avoid thousands of people from being taken into police cells for the safety of themselves and others when they should be better cared for by experts elsewhere.”

‘A much-needed focus on an incredibly important and complex issue’

Nottinghamshire Police has shared the work of the mental health street triage team following the team’s appearance in a Channel 4 documentary – entitled ‘Losing It: Our Mental Health Emergency’ – last night which explored the complex decision-making that surrounds caring for patients living with mental health conditions.

The first episode of the four-part series was broadcast on Tuesday 21 January, with Nottinghamshire Police PC Richard Boam and Linda Pert, a Community Mental Health Nurse, having featured in episode four of the series which was broadcast at 10pm on Tuesday 11 February.

Mr Cooper added: “The episode featuring the street triage team is a credit to the patients who have opened up at a particularly difficult time in their lives, as well as to the police officers and healthcare professionals who support them.

“Those officers and staff come across as professional, compassionate, caring and competent in each of the cases involved and we look forward to this series placing a much-needed focus on what is an incredibly important and complex issue.”

Episode four of ‘Losing It: Our Mental Health Emergency’ was broadcast on Channel 4 at 10pm on Tuesday 11 February.

Image caption: PC Rich Boam and Linda Pert, Community Mental Health Nurse for Nottinghamshire Heathcare, from the Street Triage Team who appeared in episode four of the series.

Need support with your mental health?

For support with your mental health, please contact your GP or, if you are already receiving support, please contact your key worker. For more information about who to contact, please visit the Nottinghamshire Healthcare website.

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