Councils 'not ready' for Met's mental health withdrawal

By Mark Conrad | 30 May 2023

Local authorities are not ready for the major consequences of the Metropolitan Police Services’ (MPS) ‘unilateral’ decision to withdraw from non-emergency mental health callouts, experts warned this week.

Met commissioner Sir Mark Rowley wrote to the police’s health and social care partners last week outlining a new approach under which officers will only attend incidents if there is a threat to life.

Speaking to The MJ after the MPS’ announcement, specialists said the police’s new policy from September surprised some organisations and cast doubt on existing partnership-based systems for helping those in mental health crises.

Joint chief executive of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, Cathie Williams, said: ‘It’s likely that the Met Police’s decision could lead to more pressure on social workers with mental health specialist skills and council emergency duty teams.

'It could also increase risk for them and for people who are in acute distress who may have to wait longer for support.

‘That’s why it’s vital police make any changes in their response in cooperation with councils and the NHS mental health teams this will affect, and we urge the Met to urgently have those discussions to avoid any adverse impact on people who need support.’

Chief executive of the NHS Confederation’s mental health network Sean Duggan, added: ‘To come up with a silo policy is going to have consequences.

'The demand isn’t going to go away just by [the police] shutting the doors.

‘Demand will still be there so who is going to pick it up?

'It will be health, local authorities and community resources, but we’re not ready.

'Mental health services are under huge demand.

‘This is the wrong time to have unilateral policy.

'This is not good news and we would call on the MPS and others to come back [to the table] and let’s work out a way.’

A spokesperson for the Local Government Association said that when a similar policy was trialled in Humberside police failed to fully engage councils – leading to mixed results.

They called for any police resources withdrawn from the system to fund ‘alternative community services to support people in mental health crisis,’ adding: ‘We are concerned that if the agreement is implemented without strong engagement with councils, as in Humberside, together with sustainable funding of social care, then it will not be successful in improving outcomes for people in mental health crisis.’

A senior officer at an NHS mental health trust added the Met’s decision could undermine joint working between councils, NHS trusts and judicial organisations in cases where vulnerable youngsters may have committed crimes or present a threat.

They said: ‘We’ve spent years developing partnership systems.

‘It’s worrying – if the police stop attending serious incidents then who becomes immediately responsible?’

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Local Government Association Adult social care Chief executives Policy NHS ADASS Partnerships Police Mental Health