Dyfed-Powys Street TriageA scheme in Wales that cares for those in mental distress during police incidents helped more than 80 vulnerable people with face-to-face support in its first 6 months.

In addition, more than 180 people with similar issues were given advice and guidance by phone and other methods during that time by the Dyfed-Powys Street Triage scheme.

The service, which was launched in January, sees Dyfed-Powys Police officers and Hywel Dda University Health Board personnel work side-by-side, ensuring those experiencing mental distress get the right attention.

The scheme has also helped to reduce the number of times that police cells are used as a place of safety for those showing signs of mental ill health and in need of immediate care and attention from 83 in the 6 months to June 2013 to 31 for the same period this year.

Detentions to appropriate health locations for the same reason are up from 50 to 63 over the same period. This is likely to result in significant savings for public services, according to Dyfed-Powys Police.

On December 10, the Welsh Government plans to unveil a national concordat on how organisations will best work together to ensure people get the help they need during a mental health crisis. A similar concordat exists in England.

Dyfed-Powys Police and Crime Commissioner Christopher Salmon, who backed the scheme by funding the purchase of an unmarked consultation van, said: “I raised this issue with Welsh Government two years ago and I’m glad that our police force and Hywel Dda have led the way.

“I’m delighted that a year after we launched our triage scheme the forthcoming Mental Health Crisis Care Concordat will recognise the importance of treating mental illness as a health issue, not a police one.

“The work of all those involved in delivering our local service is to be applauded; a huge amount of effort and expertise has resulted in a great new project.

“In the past, many people have been locked in police cells when what they’ve really needed is health treatment. Across the Hywel Dda area they now get that treatment.

“The concordat has been a long time coming but will put clear responsibility on health services to treat mental health cases. The police will be there to help, not the other way round. It’s a great example of work between the police and the health board.”

How it works

The triage scheme is led from Carmarthen’s Dyfed-Powys Police HQ by PC Celt Thomas and mental health clinician Ed McHugh. It is not a 24/7 operation, instead operating at predicted times of high demand such as 4pm-midnight Thursday-Sunday.

When police officers arrive at an incident the pair are alerted if there is thought to be a mental distress element. McHugh consults the individual’s health record then, with Thomas, advises officers on a course of action. This ranges from phone advice to the triage team attending the incident in their van. In all cases the aim is to get the appropriate health treatment, advice or guidance for the individual in the right health environment.

“The police always get things done; this initiative helps us get things done in the very best interests of vulnerable individuals. It has filled in a massive gap in knowledge,” said Thomas

McHugh added: “The triage success shows the success of clear communication between two sets of professionals who want to address a problem early.”

The pair also share knowledge and experience of mental health issues among police officers.

Libby Ryan-Davies, the university health board’s director of mental health and learning disabilities services, said: “Our triage makes a more efficient use of public services; it sees key services work together to ensure people suffering mental distress receive the support they need in the right places. At Hywel Dda we’re pleased to be playing a key role in its development and progress.”

Detective Chief Superintendent Andy John, of Dyfed-Powys Police, added: “The excellent triage project improves our response to vulnerable people and provides specific assistance to those who need it.”