A new police and health service scheme which aims to help improve services for people facing mental health crisis is underway in Eastbourne.
The pilot project, which has seen specially briefed local police officers and specialist mental health nurses from the Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust head out in a unmarked police car, is hoped to reduce the number of incidents in which police need to use powers under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act to detain people for assessment in police custody centres.
The ‘Street Triage’ team is funded by a 12-month grant from the Department of Health and tasked by police emergency operators to go to incidents where other police units have arrived and found someone needing immediate expert mental health intervention. In many cases this means the Triage team can take over and release the other police resources.
The scheme has been underway in Eastbourne since mid-October and seen the team respond to 84 cases. Of those 74 mental health assessments were carried out. Ten people declined assessment and were deemed to have capacity to make that decision. In nine operational weeks the team feels its has avoided 17 detentions under Section 136.
Sussex Deputy Chief Constable Giles York said, “We welcomed the invitation from the Home Secretary and the Department of Health to be a pilot force and are delighted to be one of the forces taking part.
“We are really keen to work with the community and our partners to ensure we are providing appropriate care to people who are suffering from mental health issues and are clearly in need of some immediate care. Often police are called at a time when people are at a point of crisis when other support is not immediately available. Whilst our custody centres have been modernised over the years and are designed so that we can appropriately look after people, we agree that they are not necessarily the best place for someone who is suffering from a mental health issue if it can possibly be avoided.”
There will still be cases where the use of Section 136 powers and even arrest for specific offences will be necessary and the police officer and nurse will jointly decide if a Section 136 detention can be avoided but initial findings are that the project is proving a really constructive way forward in providing a better public service, ensuring that the right people get appropriate treatment, whilst reducing the demand on police resources.
Vincent Badu, strategic director for Social Care and Partnerships at Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, said, “By putting mental health nurses on the beat with police officers we are providing people with help where and when they need it.”
Katy Bourne, Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner, added, “I am delighted that initial findings from the pilot project are proving to be positive.
“We have a high number of detainees in Sussex who have mental health issues and it is concern to me that it should not simply be down to the police to deal with this.”