A recent report by the police watchdog has shed light on the challenges faced by Police Scotland in responding to mental health-related incidents. According to the study conducted by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS), the demands on the police force in dealing with mental health issues have significantly increased in recent years. This has hindered their ability to effectively prevent, investigate, and detect crime. The report emphasizes that too much of frontline officers’ time is being consumed by these incidents, compromising their primary duties.
The report recommends that mental health issues should primarily be managed by health and social care services, calling for a strategic review of the entire mental health system in Scotland. It also highlights the need to clearly define and articulate the role of Police Scotland in dealing with mental health to officers, police staff, and the public. Currently, there is a perception among some police officers and staff that they are filling in gaps and performing the role of the National Health Service (NHS), raising concerns about their training and expertise in handling mental health crises effectively.
The involvement of the police in mental health incidents, while well-intentioned, can sometimes have a detrimental impact on the well-being of individuals in crisis. The report includes the testimony of Karen McKeown, whose partner tragically died in 2017 following struggles with his mental health. McKeown expresses frustration with the police’s lack of training in dealing with mental health issues and emphasizes the need for more support from specialized services.
Furthermore, the report highlights the impact of mental health-related incidents on police officers themselves. These incidents are a daily occurrence for frontline officers and significantly affect their job satisfaction. The Chief Inspector of Constabulary in Scotland, Craig Naylor, stresses the importance of officers being able to focus on their core policing duties rather than routinely performing welfare checks or waiting in hospital waiting rooms for extended periods of time.
The report references the “right care, right person” scheme implemented by police services in England and Wales, which involves officers responding to mental health calls only when there is a risk to life or serious harm. While acknowledging the potential benefits of this approach in freeing up officers for other policing duties, the report notes that there is a division among police officers in Scotland regarding its implementation. Ultimately, the report concludes by urging Police Scotland to develop an agreed and published mental health strategy, emphasizing the need for immediate action.
In response to the report, Police Scotland has stated that work is already underway to develop a mental wellbeing strategy. This aligns with the call for a review made by the Scottish Association for Mental Health, which emphasizes the importance of considering the experiences and needs of individuals with mental health problems in any changes made. The ultimate goal is to ensure that the best possible support is provided to the public in relation to mental health issues.