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Plan to end mental health crackdown set to leave thousands ‘without support’ | Metropolitan police

Thousands of people in mental health crisis will be “left without support” because of alarming and ridiculous plans for police to “walk away” from emergencies, health chiefs have said.

In a letter seen by the GuardianMetropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley said he would order police officers not to attend thousands of 999 calls about mental health incidents from September.

The move by Scotland Yard, which employs almost a quarter of all officers in England and Wales, follows the roll-out of a similar policy in Humberside. The change will help free up resources to focus on solving crimes, Rowley said.

But health chiefs have raised the alarm over the plans, believing vulnerable people will be “left in limbo” and put at risk of harm. They also noted that only the police can publicly separate people with a mental crisis.

Rowley has given health and social care services until August 31 before imposing the ban, which will only be lifted if life is threatened. His letter to the Met’s health and social care partners was sent on May 24, giving them just three months to plan the changes.

Dr Adrian James, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, called the sudden move “unhelpful” and raised concerns about the “resources that will be needed to close these gaps”.

“We don’t have such resources,” he said. “We also have a crisis of personnel in health care. We can’t just hire new employees from nowhere.”

Sarah Hughes, chief executive of Mind, said the company lacked capacity NHS to replace work currently carried out by police officers and has raised concerns about the timing of the plan. She also rejected suggestions that 999 mental health cases should not be a core part of policing.

“Any changes to support for people in mental health crisis need to be carefully and collectively thought through so that no one is left without support.

She added: “It’s fair to say that when people are in a mental health crisis they are often at their most vulnerable so really need the right support. It is also correct to say that mental health is a primary police business, for example only the police can publicly separate people in a mental health crisis.’

Andy Bell, chief executive of the Center for Mental Health, said: “This is a worrying sign that the level of need for crisis mental health care is rising. Metropolitan police threaten not to respond to emergency calls.

“It is quite right to expect that health and social services should be there for people in mental health crisis,” he told the Guardian. “But they are struggling to keep up with the growing demand for emergency care after years of austerity, particularly in social services.”

Brian Dow, deputy chief executive of Rethink Mental Illness, said it was “inappropriate” for the Met to “simply introduce an artificial deadline and threaten to walk away”. The risk was that “people in crisis will be left in limbo between two warring public services,” he added.

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“People in mental health crisis need urgent access to the right treatment and support to help them through an emergency and sometimes this will involve the police if they are a danger to themselves or others…

“The solution is for the police, mental health services, the voluntary sector and the government to come around the table and find an answer, while the government closes the very significant funding gap that exists.”

The Met’s plan was “potentially worrying” and risked creating a “vacuum”, said Zoe Billingham, a former police inspector.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, she said there was “simply no other agency to call” other than the police for people in crisis, adding: “There is no other agency to step in and fill the vacuum.”

A spokesperson for the NHS in London told the Guardian it would continue to work with the Met to help people “get the right mental health support at the right time”.


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