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EDP: ‘The system is broken’ – emergency mental health 999 incidents double

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Dominic Gilbert of the Eastern Daily Press reports:

Urgent mental health-related incidents attended by police officers have almost doubled in four years as pressures on the 999 service grow.

Coinciding with the ‘radical redesign’ and ruthless cuts to mental health community, crisis and home treatment teams and beds; the closure of assertive outreach and homeless teams; and the disintegration of joint working between Norfolk County Council and the mental health trust, Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT).

Norfolk Police are now dealing with an extra 10,000 mental health incidents each year compared with 2014, a Freedom of Information request has revealed.

And those which come through the emergency 999 number have now passed 6,000 every year.

Police officers get a day or two of training in mental health. They should not be being asked to do the job of mental health services.

Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust has said they are seeing “more and more people in crisis”, and that mental health is a “system-wide issue”.

Yet again, the expensive Board and Comms department at NSFT come up with the same tired excuses. Why can’t NSFT’s Board and the Norfolk commissioners, now known as the Norfolk and Waveney STP, take responsibility rather than try to blame the ‘system’? While front line staff and beds have been cut, the number of bureaucrats has increased and they have given themselves pay rises.

Police officers have said it is one of the “big drains on resources” and suggested refusing to attend mental health calls could be the “only way” to prompt urgent action from health bosses.

Andy Symonds, chairman of the Norfolk Police Federation, said: “The system is broken”.

“We are filling the gap in mental health services that do not really exist.”

As we told the Inspector responsible for mental health at Norfolk Constabulary and the Chief Inspector recently, we rarely, of ever, hear a bad word said about the efforts police officers make to help people in mental distress. The police know better than anybody else the extent of the meltdown in mental health services. The truth needs to be told. Now, it appears, the Norfolk Police Federation has chosen to speak out on behalf of its frustrated front line members. We are grateful.

At the start of the year a Freedom of Information request revealed people in Norfolk had been detained in police stations for more than 40 hours awaiting assessment or transfer to hospital.

We are hearing of even longer detentions in police cells because of the lack of local beds. Disgraceful.

The Chief Operating Officer of NSFT, Stuart Richardson, led a completely counterproductive, non-clinically-led, macho-management overhaul of crisis services in central Norfolk in the last quarter of 2018, which completely alienated front line staff. The result has been a collapse in morale, departures, a reliance on inexperienced and NHSP/agency staff and consequential discontinuity of care and beds crisis. Now the so-called management responsible for this utter fiasco has, typically for NSFT, been promoted and given pay rises as part of the disastrous ‘radical restructure’.

Mr Symonds said officers, who are not medically trained, will usually opt to detain someone under a section 136 place of safety order to avoid an incident occurring.

But it requires at least two police officers, and can make the person in crisis “feel they are under arrest”.

“We can sit there for hours on end waiting for mental health services,” he said. “It can be whole shifts sometimes for one incident.

“It is not fair for the person. It is a small area we take them to and we end up sitting on top of each other. They feel they are under arrest and like they are in a cell. It is not a good place to be.

“We get a very small amount of training but it is not enough for people experiencing a mental health episode.”

This ‘waiting’ is due to lack of staff and lack of beds. Often, the person is in crisis because of the cuts to community and crisis teams.

A dedicated officer has now been assigned to Hellesdon Hospital to help deal with the increase in call-outs to the mental health facility.

Oh, the irony. The police are now reduced to trying to properly staff Hellesdon Hospital. Meanwhile, NSFT has re-employed the bureaucrat who ignored warnings from clinicians and cut mental health services to pieces in Norwich on a massive salary as Stuart Richardson’s Deputy Chief Operating Officer.

But Mr Symonds said section 136 jobs have become a “huge drain on resources”.

“All that time the officers are not out there dealing with burglaries or serious violence,” he said. “They are in a hospital trying their best to look after someone going through a mental health episode.

“It is a real nightmare.

“We are the service of first resort and people think police will deal with it. It has become our job when you have got services who have retreated through austerity – the police end up dealing with it.

As long as we keep doing it, the longer other public sectors will keep stepping back.

“Saying we won’t do it any longer might be the only way they see we shouldn’t be leaving people with police officers for hours on end until we make that assessment.

“But we will never say no.”

Meanwhile, the Board of NSFT has given the clique of managers at NSFT which has driven NSFT to three CQC failures pay rises and promotions.

NSFT is as far away from clinically-led as ever.

Norfolk Police now has dedicated mental health nurses taking shifts in their control room to help provide information on a particular patient, avoiding the need to section them.

T/Assistant Chief Constable Nick Davison said mental health-related incidents are “a significant and growing part of our day to day work”.

“Norfolk Constabulary regularly assesses and reviews the impact that mental health demand has on our already stretched police resources,” he said.

Norfolk Constabulary must tell the CQC the truth about what is happening in Norfolk.

A spokesperson for NSFT said: “Mental health is a system-wide issue and NSFT works closely with our partner organisations, including the police, ambulance service, GPs and social care to improve the quality of 24-hour care we all deliver to service users.

Never take responsibility for anything is the mantra of the NSFT bureaucracy.

As has been seen in other NHS trusts nationally, demand for mental health services has steadily increased over the past five years from people who are increasingly more unwell than before and we are seeing more and more people in crisis. This, in turn, puts more pressure on all of our services.

Ignore the fact that NSFT has cut beds, crisis and community services to pieces, diverted money into the bureaucracy from the front line and repeatedly ignored and marginalised clinicians. Ignore three CQC failures. Ignore the destruction of crisis team morale. Yes, it is all down to demand and it is no different here to elsewhere. That’s right, isn’t it?

You can read the excellent article in full on the EDP website by clicking on the image below. The reader comments are interesting too.

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