The Director General of the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) General Michael Lockwood, yesterday gave his comments on the annual death statistics report 2021.
Mr Lockwood commented that ‘Substance abuse, intoxication and mental health vulnerabilities are key issues this year. Yet again we are seeing a sadly familiar picture of people with clear vulnerabilities coming into contact with the police because their needs are’t adequately met by other services.’
For mental health sufferers there is no Emergency Department to turn to when they are in desperate need. The list of people awaiting counselling grows longer and longer each day and many go without. However, it is our police force that are left again to pick up the pieces either when a person is in crisis or something has gone terribly wrong.
Heavily criticised each day, our police force is the one who takes the brunt, the frontline offers that respond to that urgent 999 call for help.
In 2019, Met officers responded to over 40, 000 calls related to mental health issues, in 2020 they responded to 39,817, an average of 3318 calls a month and the same figures are so far being recorded this year.
Director General Michael Lockwood continued by saying: ‘All but five of the 19 people who died in or following police custody in 2020/21 were known to have links to alcohol and or drugs and 12 had mental health concerns.
‘Each of these deaths is a tragedy and while not all will have been avoidable, an over reliance on the police service to step in to critical situations involving medical emergencies or mental health crises is unfair to those who have died. These cannot be solved by the police service alone and need a concerted, system wide response to help prevent future deaths from occurring.’
The key words are right there, ‘a system wide response’. That is lacking clearly as it is police officers that are left to deal with these cries for help.
A recent TUC report entitled ‘Breaking point, the crisis in mental health funding’ clearly highlights the need for a desperate change in the funding system. The report goes on to state that in 2013 there was a grand total of 1 mental health doctor for every 186. In 2018 this fell to 1 doctor for every 253 patients.
These are shocking figures and shows us just why it is our police force that once again take the full hit.
Trade Union representative Nicholas West said: “Mental health services have been chronically underfunded for a decade and although our local mental health services do an incredible job, waiting times are still too long for many and often means months without the support sufferers need.
“From a trade unionist perspective, all workers should be given time and support from their employer to deal with their mental health conditions, however, without responsive and proactive mental health services, this often leads to further stress for workers.
“We need a mental health service that is as responsive as Accident and Emergency Units. You wouldn’t expect to wait months to have a broken arm seen to, so why is this the case for mental health in 2021?”
Why indeed is this the case, and why is it that once again it is our front line police officers that are expected to be mental health nurses and social workers all rolled into one.
The Director General’s comments can hopefully be taken note of and acted upon, although sadly I doubt this and next year we will see a similar picture to this once again.