An innovative pilot in which health professionals are embedded into a force’s operational response to mental health incidents could be rolled out nationally by the end of the year, a chief officer has said.
Under Operation Panther, British Transport Police (BTP) public protection officers are working with mental health professionals to provide effective early intervention in incidents where it is thought an individual has mental health issues in the London North area of the force.
The three fully seconded mental health professionals screen all detainees who are believed to suffer from mental health problems when they are brought in to the area’s custody suite before referring them to the appropriate service and drawing up a healthcare plan for them.
A recent review of the force’s custody data highlighted that 22 per cent of detainees at this custody suite have a declared mental health history – higher than the other main London custody facility.
The professionals also provide immediate guidance, advice and support to frontline officers who come across individuals displaying signs of suffering from mental health issues through an advice line.
Under the scheme, the force’s intervention plans have also been medically reviewed to ensure procedures incorporate the most appropriate services along with the national policing decision making model.
A health professional with social care skills also works in the public protection unit to help officers spot the signs of someone with mental health problems as well as understanding the particular social and economic issues contributing to high fatality rates on the railways in two west London boroughs.
Additionally, the mental health professionals have access to national NHS IT systems which allow them to relay vital medical information about the individual to officers in real time and assist them in identifying the correct health service. They can also help officers analyse the possible risks they pose to themselves and others.
Explaining the benefits of the pilot, which was launched in February, Deputy Chief Constable Paul Crowther said that the health professionals have drastically reduced the plethora of operational and technological barriers officers historically came up against when trying to access the right health and social care services.
In an interview with PoliceOracle.com he said: “This approach could form the model for mental health intervention teams across the country.
“While our approach is different from other forces, the concept is entirely transferable and we are drawing up guidance with the College of Policing and the Association of Chief Police Officers on good practice procedures around what is being done here.
“This is an operationally effective scheme and it provides reassurance and confidence to officers that they know they are doing the right thing and will be handing over individuals to the correct health service.
“The police are often referred to as the service of the last resort. This provides an enormous amount of support and relief to frontline officers who know they have this professional backup.”
The pilot, which was jointly funded by Network Rail, Transport for London and NHS England, has already been rolled out to the entire London Underground network as well as London South.
DCC Crowther hopes that a central contact hub where officers are able to contact healthcare professionals immediately for advice and support will be available nationally for BTP officers by the end of the year.
He added: “This is one of the biggest strategic risks in terms of public protection for us.
“What we found from our analysis of the problem is that, in some hotspot boroughs, the health needs of the population were being imported through transport hubs.
“This approach incorporates a policing analysis with a health needs analysis to provide the services for this transient health need.”