The Integrated Police Mental Health Service, part funded by the Office of the Devon and Cornwall Police and Crime Commissioner, is the first of its type in the country.
It allows frontline police officers to refer directly to mental health services when they suspect someone they come into contact with is unwell, as well as access timely and informed advice from mental health professionals.
It brings together three schemes - liaison and diversion, street triage and neighbourhood - into a force-wide service that will reduce demand on the police force and provide mentally unwell people with the help they need earlier than is currently possible.
Devon and Cornwall Police estimates that 40% of demand is related to substance misuse, people suffering from mental ill health, those with learning disabilities or other psychosocial vulnerabilities.
A two-year pilot of the neighbourhood scheme in Cornwall led to a 33% reduction in this demand and an eight-week test in North Devon led to 49 referrals, with 12 of those people referred not previously known to medical professionals. Two were so ill that they were immediately hospitalised.
The scheme has been led by a Cornish police officer, Chief Inspector Mark Bolt, who was frustrated by the fact that officers could only recommend those who they came into contact with sought medical help unless they had committed a crime.
It involves working in close partnership with NHS England and primary care trusts across the two counties and will be launched across the force on Monday, October 22.
Chief Insp Bolt said: “This scheme allows for the police to get help for individuals whose behaviour has meant that the police have become involved either because there is a concern for the welfare or that individual or that their behaviour is impacting on the lives of others.
“It allows for us to get advice and help from our NHS colleagues and provides an opportunity to get support for the individual before their behaviour reaches crisis point. It is all about early intervention to prevent more serious harm later on.”
Police and Crime Commissioner Alison Hernandez, whose office has provided £150,000 of funding for the service and is administering its financing, welcomed its imminent launch.
“This is a great example of spending a pound now to save several later,” she said.
“We should not allow problems caused by mental illness to escalate to the point where additional harm is caused. The results of the pilots are very encouraging. It’s about providing the right care for people at the right time in way that makes communities safer and frees up police officers to deal with criminals.”
In addition the OPCC is funding a mental health treatment requirement in Plymouth which enables courts to sentence offenders who were mentally unwell at the time they committed their crime to a course of treatment instead of punishment.
“There is no way that police can deliver safer communities in isolation,” Alison added.
“This is a great example of collaborative work which involves multiple agencies.”