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A new scheme to help make communities safer

In her latest blog, Alison talks about working to together and the new Integrated Police Mental Health Service.

It’s been a busy few weeks for my office, with the business case for a merger between Devon and Cornwall Police and Dorset Police being released into the public domain for scrutiny. Ultimately I didn’t think the benefits of the merger are large enough to outweigh a lack of clear public support, and I was never happy with the fact that Devon and Cornwall residents would have to pay more in council tax without necessarily seeing any benefits for their money.

I was pleased I was able to put the full business case before the Police and Crime Panel and that on Friday they voted overwhelmingly (12/4) to support my decision. Like me several members were concerned that the reorganisation would prove a major distraction for front-line officers.

The police force and I can now get on with the job that the public pay us to do – make our communities safer and making every penny work to that end.

Fortunately my office and the force haven’t just had our heads in the merger. A number of projects which have huge potential are nearing their operational phase, and with World Mental Health Day on Wednesday, October 10, it seems appropriate that a pioneering scheme to get medical help to some of our most vulnerable residents is about to launch across the force area.

The Integrated Police Mental Health Service, which is being funded via my office, is the brainchild of Cornwall-based Chief Inspector Mark Bolt, who has been working with NHS professionals to create a system that has the potential to save money and police time while providing the best results for communities. He recognised that unless someone who is mentally unwell had committed an offence all that frontline police officers had the power to do was recommend they seek medical help. 

From October 22 officers will have the ability to refer these individuals to the NHS. Officers will also have access to on the spot advice from mental health experts who can look up medical records in a standardised way across the force. Devon and Cornwall Police estimates that an incredible 40% of activity is related to substance misuse, people suffering from mental ill health, those with learning disabilities or other psychosocial vulnerabilities, so it’s unsurprising that initial results from tests are very encouraging indeed.

A two-year pilot of the neighbourhood scheme element of the project in Cornwall led to a 33% reduction in this area, while an eight-week test in North Devon led to 49 referrals to the NHS, with 12 of those people referred not previously known to medical professionals. Two were so ill that they were immediately hospitalised.

Getting in early and helping people out before they commit a crime or become a victim is so much better for them, as well as being more cost-effective for the taxpayer as costly, expensive, inappropriate court cases and custody can be avoided  in favour of proper treatment. I have high hopes for this scheme and am pleased that my office has been able to help through funding it and providing financial administration.

Putting together a programme like this is difficult and unglamorous. Unlike the merger it’s unlikely to generate many headlines, but it has the power to transform lives for the better and free police officers up so they can deal with real criminals. The way it works – engaging other organisations – cuts to the core of my police and crime plans and the connectivity agenda I’m trying to push.

Put simply the plan recognises the fact that the police alone cannot solve society’s problems. It’s when we work together that solutions like the early intervention mental health programme start to emerge.

If there’s one thing that I am very clear about, and the public repeatedly tell us about it’s that we all care deeply about community policing, and most are less than fussed about what their police force is called or what insignia officers wear on their cap badges.

The Chief Constable and I now need to redouble our efforts to deliver that vision of a force which is safe, resilient and better connected to our communities.

Anyone who needs help or advice about mental health can call the charity Mind on 0300 1233393, text 86463 or visit www.mind.org.uk

Alison Hernandez