A reflection on the following article:
There is a lot to consider from the perspective of those in contact with services, but there are others more qualified to comment on that with their own lives experience. I can imagine that for some in crisis, being met by uniformed officers might only exacerbate their distress.
I do, however, have a concern as a clinician of how this is symptomatic of a broad political and policy problem. The increased reliance on police officers illustrates the systemic failings of a system that, despite repeated pledges and promises of action, is woefully misunderstood and mismanaged by those who are running it.
I value our police force, as a mental health professional as well as a member of the public. They were helpful when my bike was stolen, when a friend was assaulted in the street and when there were concerns over a particularly loud street party getting out of hand.
I would expect them to be on hand for these cases. I don’t however expect them to have to do my job.
I, and many of my colleagues, have dealt with people in the acute phase of a crisis. It’s our vocation, what we are trained for and what we’re passionate to provide.
And yet, thanks to years of mismanagement, cuts to services, ignored warnings, failed initiatives and empty platitudes, we see now that more and more often the police are called on to plug gaps in mental health services.
Nobody should be happy about this.
The answer is not more training or role expansion for police officers. It isn’t really solved by increasing funding for crisis services either. Crisis teams only work when there’s a crisis, when things have become too hard for service users to manage.
Instead, a major investment in preventative programmes, long term community support and effective pathways between services (including crisis management) is required.
The money can be made available, the staff I’m sure would be delighted to work towards this ( and arguably shifting focus to prevention and management might address some of the issues of burnout among nursing staff).
The problem is a lack of political will, from government on down, to spend the time and money required. We know that the current crop of Tories are in favour of ruining social healthcare in this country, and we know that the promises of politicians rarely translate into action, let alone improvement.
Services are clearly not being commissioned appropriately either. We’ve seen in recent months multiple examples of funding promised for mental health instead being siphoned off to prop up overstretched acute general hospitals, further reinforcing the futility of government rhetoric.
Everyone wants to save money, and the soft targets of community services and mental health professionals inpatient beds are the easy victims. Simply because it’s an easy target doesn’t make it right though.
What’s better – to have an amazing respiratory support team, or to prevent people developing lung problems in the first place?
It’s really not that difficult if the vision is there. So I don’t think this is only about money (though the cash helps), but a failure of leaders political and professional to have the best interests of service users at heart.