Chief Constable Mark Collins, the national police lead for mental health, has played host to the Duke of Cambridge and 230 delegates from across policing and health services, as they gathered for the second national mental health and policing conference (Oxford, Tuesday 5th September) and committed to delivering improved services for the future.

In opening the conference, Chief Constable Collins called for creative thinking from police and health services to develop effective interventions that prevent people reaching crisis point and entering the Criminal Justice System.

He said: “Mental health demand is rising not just in policing but across our whole emergency system and in society as a whole. Police officers have always had a role in responding to mental health and crisis incidents. Some forces have seen a rise of one-third in calls related to mental health, averaging a 26 per cent rise in demand in the three years to 2015.

“Much of policing and mental health is not about major crisis incidents or serious adverse events; it is about the daily challenge of quietly responding to vulnerable people, often collaboratively. But the Criminal Justice System cannot ever be a shadow system of mental health care – nor should it try to be.

“The cost of prosecuting someone who has committed an offence when unwell and holding them in secure care is extremely high, both for the Criminal Justice System and health services. While not everything in mental health can ever be predictable or preventable, both policing and health services need to look at how we can do more to intervene early and prevent people reaching crisis point.

“Today’s national conference has been a great opportunity to share their stories and learnings but also encourage attendees to think creatively about how, in our respective roles, we can get better at early intervention.”

Delegates also heard about the personal cost of crisis to individuals, with mutual consensus that efforts now to design improved services for the future and much needed.
Mr Collins was very proud to be able to introduce to conference, the Duke of Cambridge. The Duke, reflecting on his own time working as a first responder, recognised the mental resilience required in those working to help very vulnerable individuals.

HRH the Duke of Cambridge said: “One in four adults will experience a mental health problem, so it is perhaps not a surprise that an estimated one third of all policing demand is connected to a vulnerable person in mental distress. This has a significant impact on policing time and effort, and it can also have a personal impact on those on the front line dealing with these cases. As a former RAF Search and Rescue and Air Ambulance pilot, I know what this feels like.”

“Over the past two years I worked with the East Anglian Air Ambulance alongside the police and other emergency services. My team was frequently tasked to help people in extreme distress, and I know I was not alone in being affected by some of the calls I attended. One of my first call outs was to a young man who had taken his own life. Looking at the statistics, I was astounded by how prevalent this was. Suicide is the biggest killer of young men in this country. Not cancer, knife crime, or road deaths – but suicide. This had a big impact on me.

“You are skilled at helping people in extreme distress – so you should be looked after just as much.

“I will be convening representatives of the emergency services to consider ways in which society might better support the work you do. The tragedy at Grenfell, and the conclusion of my work as an Air Ambulance pilot, spurred me to look into doing what I can to support you in a practical way.

“The reason I think all of this is important is that being a first responder is tough enough as it is. These pressures are not going to go away. Therefore, it is properly essential you are equipped to withstand the realities of 21st century policing. If more openness about mental wellbeing is part of the solution, as I believe it is, then I would like to help you with that.”

Also at the conference was Sarah Newton MP, Minister for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability. Speaking to attendees about the new provisions in the Mental Health Act, she said: “It is not necessary to be an expert in this field to be aware of the very high, and increasing, demand for mental health services of all types. Members of this audience will know only too well, that the police can be asked to deal with a wide variety of cases involving people who are unwell and in distress.

“We have heard of some great examples today of innovation and all local areas will need to take a careful look at their local provision, in the light of the new legislation, to ensure that it is good enough. They may also need to refresh their local joint working practices to reflect the need to act more quickly and collaboratively to provide the most appropriate help for people in crisis.”

Chief Constable Mark Collins took up his role as national lead for mental health in January and is committed to learning from the experiences of those living with mental ill-health; people external to policing and from those within the service itself.

This month Dyfed-Powys Police will be one of the first forces nationally to launch a combined leadership and wellbeing strategy, recognising that without strong leadership, an organisation’s wellbeing will always be on fragile ground. He is very supportive of mental health charity, ‘Mind’s’ Blue Light campaign (www.mind.org.uk/bluelight) and affirms that ‘it’s ok, not to be ok’.

The ‘Policing and Mental Health’ conference was co-ordinated by the National Police Chiefs Council and the College of Policing.

For the full speech by The Duke of Cambridge click here: https://www.royal.uk/duke-cambridge-gives-speech-national-mental-health-and-policing-conference

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