'Police are having to handle a call every two minutes from mentally ill people as they are forced to “pick up the pieces” from a “broken” NHS system, the police watchdog says.
In its first inquiry into the issue, HM Inspectorate of Constabulary said police were being distracted from investigating other crime because they were having to deal with tens of thousands of cases from a mental health service in crisis.
Some of the people with mental health problems had been deliberately “shunted” onto police by NHS staff who wanted to clock off for the day or weekend, it said.
It warned it was tying up stretched police services at a time when they faced increased demands to tackle knife crime, child exploitation and a raised terror threat.
"We are seeing forces attending less other crimes because they are focusing on mental health-related incidents," said HM Inspector Zoe Billingham, who led the investigation.
“We cannot expect police to pick up the pieces of a broken mental health system. Over-stretched and all-too-often overwhelmed police officers can't always respond appropriately, and people in mental health crisis don't always get the help they need.
"It is a national crisis which should not be allowed to continue. Other services need to stop relying on the 24/7 availability of the police. The police should be the last resort, not the first port of call.”
According to the inspectorate’s analysis, police in 22 forces took 318,000 calls relating to mental health in two years, which equates to one every two minutes if scaled up to all forces.
This figure excluded the Metropolitan Police which dealt with a mental health call every four minutes and had to send an officer to deal with such a call every 12 minutes.
The top five individual repeat callers to the Met all had mental health problems and called the force a combined 8,655 times last year. It cost some £70,000 just to answer the calls, says the watchdog.'
Read more: Police taking calls on mental health issues every two minutes, watchdog warns
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