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    Officer: Police Have Role to Play in Society Around Mental Health

    CC BY 2.0 / Yukiko Matsuoka / London Metropolitan Police
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    Britain’s emergency services watchdog has found that overstretched police forces are having to “pick up the pieces of a broken mental health system” on top of tackling crime. Sputnik spoke about it to Police Officer, Michael Brown, who specializes in mental health provision and policing.

    Sputnik: Britain's emergency services watchdog has found that overstretched police forces are having to "pick up the pieces of a broken mental health system" on top of tackling crime… How significant is this and what effect does it have already stretched police services?

    Michael Brown: The police do have a role to play in our society around mental health. Not everything is predictable and preventable, and sometimes mental health can manifest itself in a way that realistically only the police service have got the powers, opportunities and resources to deal; or where mental health services if they are dealing are simply going to require support.

    The first thing to say is that we do have a role to play, this is not about arguing that the police shouldn't be touching mental health demands of any kind. It is fair to say what this report is also arguing is that we are probably now over exposed to this in certain critical ways, sometimes officers are in situations where they do not necessarily have legal powers but they get nevertheless on their own dealing with an incident and there are other examples where officers are perhaps not as appropriately skilled professionally qualified clinically to handle some of the risk assessments and clinical decisions that are heading towards them.

    That is not about the police needing more training, I'm saying even if you had the best police mental health training in the world there will still be some situations, there will still be some situations that are clinical in nature which sometimes require doctors, nurses or qualified social workers to make important clinical decisions about somebodies welfare and the police service are never going to be able to fill a gap of that kind because by definition, police officers are generalists in terms of their training and workload.

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    Sputnik: This crisis has a knock-on effect with other emergency response services such as ambulance services. If this isn't addressed what sort of problems are we going to walk into?

    Michael Brown: Over policing mental health has certain obvious consequences, many examples on social media will show that officers are now sitting in healthcare settings via emergency departments or psychiatric units whilst we're waiting for the mental health system to identify an inpatient mental health bed for which somebody can be emitted as an inpatient. By definition, if you have some officers who shift after shift for two or three days sitting someone in emergency rooms for example, then by definition those resources are not out responding to pub fights, domestic abuse or burglaries and by definition, the public on that agenda are getting a lesser service then they otherwise would.

    It's not say that sometimes the police shouldn't remain in healthcare settings because sometimes we remove people there and there is a need for police support because people are potentially violent to NHS staff on rare occasions that would require ongoing support from the police. The point is that when its gets to days and days of people being detained, when they're not assaultive towards NHS staff, there is a concern that if we don't guard them they will walk out until a bed is found. That's when you start seeing resources being depleted in terms of other police demand. 

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    Sputnik: It safe to say that Britain is a long from being adequately equipped to deal with the large number of these cases… what do we need to see from the government to ensure these cases are properly dealt with?

    Michael Brown: The first thing to say is that Britain is not unique in this, there are an awful lot of countries where there have been major reports written. Canada, Australia, the US… there's loads of questions who are wrestling with exactly the same issues about lack of access to mental health services for their populations, how the police service and the justice system generally step into that gap, we're far from unique and we're better off than many in the sense that we do have publicly available mental health system which is there to be worked with and there to be worked in partnership with.

    Imperfect how it is and imperfect how our policing is, at least we have got the systems to talk to each other — there are other countries that don't have that because of a range of reasons. We are better off than many but in terms of the workload and how we match the demand, there are areas of the country that work better than others; we know that is sometimes to do with healthcare funding, because of the amount of money spent by clinical commissioning groups in England or the local health boards in Wales is kind of up in the high teens/20% of their overall health budget going towards mental health whereas in other parts of the country its in single figures maybe 6 or 7%.

    The views expressed in this article are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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