Reporter rides along with Essex Police team that helps people in mental health crisis

From left, Pc Amy Howard, nurse Claire Duckering and Pc Rob Bailey. Picture: GEMMA MITCHELL

From left, Pc Amy Howard, nurse Claire Duckering and Pc Rob Bailey. Picture: GEMMA MITCHELL - Credit: Archant

A man is at an Essex police station in a panicked state because he believes he is being followed by a group of men who want to hurt him. He confesses to officers he has a diagnosed delusional disorder, but he insists he is truly in danger.

It’s 9.30pm. The officers scour CCTV and find no evidence to back up the man’s claims. They give him reassurance, but he pleads with them to keep him safe in the station for the night.

Pc Amy Howard and mental health nurse Claire Duckering are on duty in one of Essex Police’s street triage cars, with myself in tow as I join them for their 6pm to 2am shift on the Friday before Christmas.

We are called to the scene.

During a conversation with Claire, who dresses in casual clothes alongside her uniformed colleague, the man makes a startling statement – if he is sent home tonight he will probably jump in front of a train.

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Historically, police officers hearing this would more than likely have to detain the man under section 136 of the Mental Health Act for his own protection.

However, with Claire’s knowledge and expertise, she is able to put the man at ease, access his mental health history records, and arrange for him to be escorted to A&E where he will be examined by a psychiatric professional and given the care he needs.

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Reflecting after the job, the team consider this is a positive result.

Amy says: “We done what we are supposed to do and that is prevent 136s.”

Section 136 of the Mental Health Act gives police power to remove someone from a public place if they fear they are mentally unwell and may harm themselves or others.

The person is taken to a place of safety and within 24 hours they will be assessed by an approved mental health practitioner and a doctor.

The decision will then be made as to whether the person needs further assessment, treatment or if they can be discharged.

This process is lengthy and expensive, not to mention distressing for the patient who is already struggling.

Essex Police introduced the street triage service around two years ago and in April it was extended to cover 10am-2am, seven days a week.

Cars staffed by a nurse from Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust and a specially trained officer are available to attend incidents where there are concerns for someone’s wellbeing.

The scheme is proving successful in reducing the number of people unnecessarily detained under Section 136, while also freeing up officers’ time to deal with other jobs.

We bump into Pc Rob Bailey, a street triage officer, at Essex Police’s headquarters in Chelmsford.

He tells me there have been days where they have prevented up to three people from being held under the act by finding a more appropriate solution.

Amy, who has been in the police for 12 years, says: “We go to a job and we can see officers have requested us and they are so appreciative. When we leave they can’t thank us enough because it’s such a weight off their shoulders.

“Over the years we have just 136 everyone but now we go to these jobs and the nurses will look them up on the system and that relieves the officers from that job.”

When asked if attitudes towards mental health at Essex Police have changed, Amy says: “I think us being here definitely helps but I think officers are still very cautious when going to a mental health job. A lot of officers question themselves, saying what if this happens? And you can’t blame them.

“Having us here helps so many officers and people think it’s such a positive thing. People say it’s one of the best things to happen to Essex Police in a long time because it’s so useful and the nurses experience, you can’t buy that. I’m surprised other forces haven’t implemented this yet.”

During our shift, Amy and Claire were also called to help a woman with learning disabilities who was threatening to kill herself. Amy tells me she is a frequent caller and with advice from Claire she was made safe in her home.

The last job of the night was to a woman who had gone missing and relatives feared she may take her own life. The team was asked to assess the woman after she was located.

With Essex Police attending more than 200 mental health-related incidents a month, the value of this service is clear, not only to the officers but to the vulnerable people who are getting the support they need more quickly in their darkest hours.

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