Met police policy on mental health calls may be putting lives at risk, say charities

Met police policy on mental health calls may be putting lives at risk, say charities

The Metropolitan police have said their refusal to routinely go to mental health calls means officers can spend more time at crime scenes, but charities say the policy could endanger lives.

Six months ago the Met introduced a scheme called Right Care Right Person, aiming to cut the time officers spent dealing with mental health calls, which it said was diverting the force from fighting crime.

The Met, Britain’s largest police force, says it is now seeing the benefits, with officers getting to robberies 6% quicker than before the scheme, and for all crime types, being able to spend 21% more time at the scene. A total of 34,000 officer hours a month had been saved from 6,000 fewer deployments to health calls.

Det Supt Alastair Vanner, the mental health lead for the Met, said the type of calls officers were not going to included concerns for someone’s welfare because a neighbour had not seen then for some time, or because they had missed an appointment. He said officers would still go if there was a concern about a potential crime.

The Met commissioner, Sir Mark Rowley, had originally wanted to introduce the scheme in September 2023, triggering “fear and animosity” among health organisations, Vanner said. Tense talks led to the deadline being pushed back by two months and the scheme introduced in phases. In return, the health and social care sector agreed to pick up the extra work.

Other forces have adopted the scheme, which was originally pioneered by Humberside police.

But two leading mental health charities said they still had serious concerns, while supporting the principle that health professionals, not police officers, were best placed to help those with a medical need.

Mark Winstanley, the chief executive of Rethink Mental Illness, said: “We’ve become increasingly concerned that the decision by the Metropolitan police and other forces across the country to step back from responding to most mental health calls has put lives at risk, which is why we are calling for a pause to the Right Care Right Person scheme. Health and social care services simply do not have the resources to plug the gap.”

Gemma Byrne, the policy and campaigns manager at Mind, said: “We have grave concerns about how it is being rolled out nationally. It is a patchy picture across the country, with some areas delivering well-integrated support while other areas are struggling. Failing to properly fund NHS mental health crisis services while instructing police forces to step back from mental health calls is an unsafe and frankly irresponsible decision.”

Vanner said he disagreed with claims patients had been placed in danger.

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Emergency call handlers have been trained in assessing whether the mental health calls the force receives really need a police response. Vanner said the London ambulance service was usually going where once police would have gone, and in the first six months, only a handful of calls may have been incorrectly assessed.

Vanner said that to send a police officer to deal with a mental health patient could stigmatise them in the eyes of their neighbours and worsen their condition.

“What does someone in mental health crisis want?” he asked. “Do they want to be dealt with by someone in a stab-proof vest, handcuffs and possibly [with] a Taser, or do they want a healthcare professional in front of them?

“When police turn up, they [neighbours] don’t think that person is in health crisis, they think they are criminal and being arrested and taken away for a criminal offence. That’s criminalisation of people in mental health crisis.”