policeThe mental health triage scheme, which sees psychiatric nurses attend to with police officers to people suspected of being mentally unwell, is to be rolled out across the West Midlands after a successful pilot.

Since January, West Midlands Police officers have been crewed with psychiatric nurses and paramedics to answer calls in Birmingham and Solihull involving people believed to be experiencing mental ill health.

This has meant medical experts, rather than police officers, have been on hand to carry out assessments on individuals at the scene. They can also access patient records to determine if anyone they encounter is on medication or has previously experienced mental illness.

As a result, the number of people deemed necessary to detain under the Mental Health Act has dropped dramatically. In addition, those judged to be in need of help are now being taken to safe health facilities instead of police cells.

The triage team has dealt with almost 2,000 people since the start of the year with only 227 being detained under the Mental Health – down from 504 in the first nine months of 2013, a reduction of 55%.

Of those detained only two were taken to police stations – one of the lowest numbers for any UK police force – with the rest taken to preferred safe health facilities.

The triage scheme is now due to be rolled out in Coventry from December while plans to introduce the initiative across the Black Country are at an advanced stage.

Cultural shift

Chief Inspector Sean Russell, who’s overseen the trial, said: “Around 20% of police demand is due to mental health issues. In the past we’ve not worked alongside agencies like the ambulance service and mental health providers… and it’s meant too many people ending up in police custody and essentially being criminalised for being unwell. It’s also meant many hours of police time have been wasted.

“This scheme is a cultural shift; we share more information and work closely together. It’s led to marked improvements in the treatment given to members of the public who need our help, a significant cut in the use of police stations as places of safety to almost zero, and a reduction in demand on the police and the healthcare system.

“I’m confident the triage scheme will prove as successful in Coventry and the Black Country as it’s been in Birmingham and Solihull.”

The Coventry scheme will operate from 5pm-2am seven days a week, while coverage on the western side of the city – intended to launch early next month – would see the triage vehicle sent to emergencies from 10am-2am and 3am at weekends.

Black Country Partnership NHS Foundation Trust chief executive, Karen Dowman, added: “Mental health triage is a welcome addition to services already provided in the Black Country… I have no doubt it will provide positive results. Vulnerable people should receive appropriate support right at the point they need it and this initiative does exactly that.”

West Midlands Police & Crime Commissioner, David Jamieson, concluded: “I am keen to see the continuation of this work which was highly supported by my predecessor the late Bob Jones. These Mental Health Triage schemes are proving to be beneficial in enhancing the long-term safety of the public in a cost effective way."