‘We are now providing more personal, appropriate care’

Back in 2010, I began building relationships with our four Mental Health Trusts, Approved Mental Health Professionals, Ambulance Service and others, to work in partnership to address concerns and improve how we responded to those experiencing mental ill health. I would be lying if I said it was a smooth and easy process, as, coming from a service whose hierarchy is structured like a pyramid, with the boss clearly at the top, I found the structure of health departments very complicated to understand and frustrating, when issues couldn’t be addressed and resolved on a Greater Manchester level but had to be developed more locally.

Though successes were achieved then, we have moved on greatly in Greater Manchester and the Crisis Care Concordat has given it real impetus. Returning to mental health work after a seven-month break, the change was palpable.

A Greater Manchester Mental Health Partnership Board and Executive were formed to drive forward the Crisis Care Concordat and the key element of this was the membership consisting of key leads from all partner agencies as well as commissioners and third-sector organisations. Our action plan was ambitious and creative. Everyone understood that this was the time to think differently about how we could provide the best care for those who required support for mental ill health. We considered what would be the ‘ideal’ and took strides towards making it a reality. The fact that membership consisted of a variety of professionals with different perspectives made it easier to consider new ways of working. There was (and is) real enthusiasm to work together and come up with better.

From a police perspective, information is key to us effectively carrying out our duties. For too long, we have tried to support individuals with mental ill health when we knew nothing, or very little, about them, and we’ve tried to make the right decisions with only limited mental health knowledge. As police, we don’t have access to a person’s GP details or their medical records, so decisions have been made based on the way an individual presents and by what information another officer may have added to the Force Intelligence System previously – unverified medical assumptions in the main.

So what have we created so far in Greater Manchester?

We now have 24/7 access to professional mental health support and advice. The police, fire and ambulance service personnel can call a ‘mental health phone triage line’ and receive relevant information and advice on the best type of care an individual may require. During the pilot phase (in Oldham), there was evidence of a reduction in s136 MHA detentions. But this wasn’t all about that, as they are a relatively small number of the mental health incidents police respond to on a daily basis. It was about being able to offer more personal care and acknowledging that the usual pathways don’t always provide the most appropriate care that an individual needs at a particular time.

In recognition of this, greater support has been offered to the third sector who aren’t always so constricted from thinking ‘outside of the box’. We have the good fortune, in some areas of Greater Manchester, to have support from the charity Self Help who, at this time, have three sanctuaries in place. Police have always been limited on the options available ‘out of hours’, so this is a much welcomed alternative option to a hospital for many in need of support. The sanctuaries are open every night of the year and staffed by peer supporters. They offer a calm place to just be and a referral process on to appropriate services – an environment far removed from a busy A&E. For the individuals involved, I believe a visit to a sanctuary can contribute to a person’s recovery, helping them to feel that they gained some control over a difficult situation, instead of statutory agencies making decisions on their behalf.

Mental health training is another area. Our Trusts have delivered training to local officers across the Force, building relationships in the process, and police have reciprocated with training to the Trusts. This has helped to clarify roles and responsibilities and dispel a few myths about what powers we actually do have.

Our new action plan is due to be published shortly and it builds on the successes achieved so far. With plans underway with the Health & Social Care Devolution, it feels like the opportunities to make a real difference to people’s lives is in reach.