'Failure' of Suffolk mental health service is feared behind rise in police crisis calls
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Suffolk police have increasingly been called out to mental health incidents in the county and have been asked to deal with 5,737 incidents during this year alone.
The group Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk blames Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT) for mental health 999 call-outs rising by 53.5% from 5,833 in 2016 to 8,954 in 2020.
This was higher than in 2019 when there were 7,937 999 mental health calls to police, a rise in 2020 of 12.8%, according to data obtained from a Freedom of Information request made by this newspaper.
There was a similar increase in 101 calls from 2016 to 2020 by 4.7% and this year there have been 4,982 999 call reports and 755 101 reports to Suffolk police up until June.
Mental health represents around 6% of 999 reports during 2020 and 7% of calls in 2021. This year has also seen a worrying trend in incidents at the Orwell Bridge where a number of people have been found in the river below.
A spokeswoman for the Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk told this newspaper: "It's a failure of NSFT to provide an efficient response to people in crisis."
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She claimed that expected help from NSFT had not arrived in some cases - and claimed phone calls from people seeking help in a mental health crisis had not been returned, or people found it difficult to get through to anyone.
She added that though police are very good at the scene when someone is in crisis it is not the same as the help from a mental health nurse, who is trained in this type of care.
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NSFT claims its crisis service set up last year, which should be used outside a serious or life-threatening mental emergency, answered 48,342 crisis calls between April 2020 and July 13 2021.
Dr Dan Dalton, chief medical officer at NSFT said: “It is vital that people in mental health crisis are able to access specialist support without delay. Our first response service enables people to do just that.
"Staffed by mental health professionals, the first response service can refer people to local urgent, acute and routine mental health services."
Suffolk Constabulary has a triage car, which is when a mental health nurse typically advises officers at the scene of someone in crisis, but between February 2020 and April 2021 the car stopped going out as a result of Covid restrictions.
This means after 1,047 uses of the team in 2019, this dropped to 42 in 2020 and 15 in 2021 despite a rise in mental health reports.
Tim Passmore, police and crime commissioner for Suffolk said the triage mental health team does sit in the control room and gives advice post-Covid.
He added: “Mental health nurses continued to support officers working from the police control room. This partnership with the NHS is an excellent example of what can be done if we work together.
“Sadly, dealing with incidents involving poor mental health has become an almost daily occurrence for Suffolk Constabulary officers and it seems to be increasing which has a huge impact on police resources.
“Additional training and support for officers is important but it is equally important that specialist health services are in place to support individuals in distress. Supporting the vulnerable is a key responsibility of the police but they are not health professionals, so this really needs to be a partnership approach.”
Ezra Hewing, head of education at Suffolk Mind explains: “The police and emergency services may be called out by the friend or relative of someone who feels suicidal, or the person themselves, if they are scared of what they may do.
"We know that people working in the police service are affected by these challenges too and, even before the pandemic, were working hard to respond to respond to mental health incidents with sensitivity."
A Suffolk Constabulary spokesman said the force is looking at mental health demand on "already stretched police resources" continuously.
“Our officers strive every day to protect the vulnerable, often in difficult and complex situations, working with our health partners to ensure people receive the treatment and support they need,” he added.
If you need help and support, call Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust’s First Response helpline 0808 196 3494 or the Samaritans on 116 123.