‘We need the Concordat as a conduit for change’

My name is Dan Thorpe and I lead the Metropolitan Police Mental Health Team. I spoke at both the National and London Mental Health Crisis Concordat launch events last year and other events around the country. Whilst doing so, I was struck by who was sitting before me: dozens if not hundreds of Mental Health Leads, health care professionals, service users, carers, police officers and many more – all in one place. All there for the same reason. I felt then and still feel now that the Crisis Care Concordat is not only needed as a conduit to invoke much needed improvement and change, but also to provoke conversation and to place ourselves into the shoes of someone else, be it someone who suffers or is suffering from mental illness, or in the shoes of someone from another profession. This allows us to see things from a different perspective to our own and what it will certainly do, is help us realise that there is still lots to do out there with regards to mental health crisis care.

I applaud those of you reading this, who are contributing to this agenda, taking personal responsibility to invoke change, to have a conversation, to attend a meeting to drive through improvements. This will mean someone’s journey whilst in need of mental health crisis care will run smoother than before and people will get the help that they really need and at a time that they need it.

This leads me onto the one thing I ask for as a priority across the entire UK: access to 24/7 mental health professional support. Not only for those in need of treatment and care, but around-the-clock access for all emergency services who are expected to respond to people in need of that crisis care. Across the country tomorrow morning at 2am, when a police officer finds themselves responding to someone going through a mental health crisis, who is actually there to support them from mental health services? How responsive is that service and is it fit for purpose?

I have a rather large ‘wishlist’ with regards to mental health crisis care provision, but let’s start with that one – 24/7 access to professional mental health support for the public and emergency services. This would mean a colleague of mine calling a ‘mental health triage line’, will not only get the information they need about the individual in crisis, but they will also be diverted to the most appropriate pathway/service that is available there and then. After all, page 8 of the Concordat is all about when someone needs ‘urgent help’. So let’s get fast access to the most appropriate service, to the people who need it, as none of us can do this on our own in any one agency.

In London, police and mental health trusts have worked really hard to keep those detained under S136 Mental Health Act out of police cells. We have reduced this by 75%, if you compare data from 2013 to 2014. This figure continues to remain low so far in 2015, but there is still work to be done. Although these figures are very encouraging and similar progress is being reported in other parts of England, we must bear in mind what often sits underneath those figures. There are still fairly regular occasions where officers are waiting hours to actually get access to a mental health based place of safety. This is often compounded by the fact that police transportation is often used, as the demands on the ambulance service are ever increasing. We shouldn’t forget that figures do not always tell the full story, and that ‘success’ needs to be carefully scrutinised.

Keep talking, keep meeting, keep sharing and keep driving the concordat principles forward. We all have a role to play in this and with demands increasing, if we don’t get this right now and in the near future, the foundations for coping in 5-10 years’ time will crumble very quickly. We’re on the right road.