Metropolitan police not to respond to call from mental health units

  • Staff in psychiatric units fear that they will be put at risk if police do not respond to call that will help them restrain patients.

    The Metropolitan police have ordered officers not to respond to calls from mental health units and emergency departments to help control and restrain patients unless there is a "significant threat to life or limb" reports the Guardian.

    The decision by police has caused much confusion, anger and concern within psychiatric hospitals that fear that both staff and patients are being put at risk.

    A growing dispute between police and health bodies on where to draw the line between each responsibility when dealing with violent people has seen managers in the NHS telling nursing staff within psychiatric units to record all incidents where police have been called for being refused.

    Staff have fears that the lack of support could result in serious injury or death.

    The Met are believed to have acted due to the growing concerns in the police service about the impossible burden that responding to incidents involving mental health issues are placing upon forces. They are concerned that staff in mental health facilities are specially trained to control and restrain psychiatric patients whereas the police are not.

    Sever Met officers are under investigation by the police watchdog and could face manslaughter charges following the death of Seni Lewis after police were called to the Maudsley hospital and had to restrain him three times in the 45 minutes before he collapsed and died.

     The new protocol was issued to borough commanders in the last eight weeks but not shared with local mental health units. It states:

    • Transportation to a place of safety should be in the form of an ambulance and responsibility for transfers between psychiatric hospitals and to emergency departments rests with the hospital not the police.

    • Police will not attend a health trust to assist in restraining patients receiving treatment or assessment.

    • Police will not attend trust premises merely to restrain a patient located therein or to stand by and prevent a breach of the peace.

    • Police will attend all premises in the event of a significant threat to life or limb that requires force necessary to regain control.

    Chris Bourlet, Chief Superintendent of the Met's mental health team, has said that the protocol was an attempt to standardise responses across the capital. He has admitted that it was causing concerns within mental health facilities but said the Met was working to address those worries.

    "This is about making sure everyone knows where we stand. This is not about withdrawing service where it is appropriate, it is about defining who is responsible for what and where the line is," he said.

    Bourlet has also said that the Met policy was in line with the protocols issued nationally by the National Policing Improvement Agency.

    The NPIA recommends that officers should not ordinarily be called to assist when a patient is displaying management problems, it is appropriate for officers to attend if there are insufficient numbers of trained staff in the unit, if a break of the peace of a crime is anticipated and if it is an emergency and the individual has to be taken to a place of safety that is not a current facility.

    This has come out the same day as the BBC reports that many crime victims with mental illnesses feel let down, dismissed or treated without respect by the police.

    361 people were questioned by the charities Victim Support and Mind and said they were often left disbelieved when they sought help after a crime.

    The study says that almost half of people with some form of mental illness had experienced crime in the last year. It says that people with a severe mental illness were five times more likely to experience assault, while severely mentally ill women were 10 times more likely to be assaulted.

    The interviewees for the survey said that when they sought help they found that they were being treated unfairly by the police and other agencies. Victims said that they found it difficult to convince police to take their reports seriously.

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