This week, while most of us will be tucking into mince pies and sharing time with family and friends dedicated emergency services workers will be hard at work during what can be a demanding time for police officers, police staff and the NHS.
For much of the Christmas and New Year period the pressures on police and NHS workers can be even more extreme. People over-doing it on nights out, heavy road traffic at peak times combined with bad weather and sadly a spike in mental health crises can mean these dedicated public servants can be extremely busy.
For many people Christmas is a hard time. The mental health charity Mind cites financial pressures, missing family members who are no longer with us and loneliness as reasons that people suffering periods of mental unwellness at Christmas. I have been uplifted by so many people this year helping the homeless have a less lonely, from organising gifts for families in need to Christmas dinners for those without anyone to celebrate with.
Worryingly the UK’s suicide rate has increased to its highest level since 2002, an Office for National Statistics report published in September said. Of particular concern is a rise in suicides among young people.
All of these factors result in more calls for help from our emergency services. One department that really feels this is the police Contact Management and Communications Unit (CMCU). It is these dedicated individuals who deal with emergency 999 or non-emergency 101 phone calls as well as WebChat, email and website contact (available on the homepage of the police website devon-cornwall.police.uk).
They work all hours of the day, helping people in their hour of need and juggling requests for service according to the level of emergency. You may have seen their work featured in the recent Call The Cops documentary series, which resumes in the new year.
There have been frustrations in recent years about the wait times for non-emergency calls, which at certain times of the day can be lengthy. My office has supported the force to deliver a project that is designed to ensure callers get through to the right person and people calling about matters that the police cannot help with are sent to the right service.
This has been partly successful, with more calls about things like missing people or domestic abuse, being answered more quickly. More people are using WebChat and email to contact the force. This frees up call handlers to talk with those who need to speak with someone because they are distressed or anxious or don’t have access to the internet. However, the numbers of people calling 999 or 101 keeps rising, so the force is making renewed efforts to make sure we all know when to contact the police. They established an Ask Ned option on the website which better signposts you to the service that can help you.
In November there was an incredible 23% increase in 999 calls to the force and there is always a seasonal increase at Christmas.
This festive season inappropriate call recordings are being shared by the force as part of a campaign to reduce the number of unsuitable calls. These include someone complaining that their cash machine has swallowed their card, another caller calling 999 to ask what the non emergency number is and a call complaining about a hair salon dying her hair incorrectly. They would be funny if they weren’t so alarming.
We can all help take the strain off the emergency services this winter by abiding by a few simple rules. If you do need help or advice from the police in a non emergency or to tell them something please ‘click before you call’. It is easier for CMCU staff to manage WebChat or email inquiries than it is phone calls and you can avoid some of the delays that happen at peak times on the phones. So only call if you need to speak to someone or because the internet does not suit you or your issue. For example, it may be the first time you’ve decided to report domestic abuse and you need reassurance.
If you are on a night out please remember to look out for one another and ensure that everyone in your group gets home safely. We have wonderful street pastors in many of our towns and cities out late at night who can help you in your time of need too. Remember to never drink and drive and that alcohol can stay in your system overnight and mean you are over the drink drive limit the following morning. If in doubt take an alternative form of transport or carshare with colleagues to get to work the next day.
If travelling this winter make sure you allow adequate time to travel – wet weather warnings suggest that there will be additional delays on the roads and rushing causes accidents.
Finally, look out for friends, family and neighbours who might be having a tough time during the festive season. An invite to join your Christmas party, dinner or New Year celebrations can go a long way to making people who might be a bit down feel a bit better about the world.
The Mind Infoline – tel 0300 1233393 or text 86463 – provides advice and help on mental illness and the services and treatments available. It is open from 9am to 6pm Monday to Friday except bank holidays. The Samaritans offers support 24 hours a day and can be reached by phone on 116 123 or via email at email@example.com.
I’d like to wish everyone in Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly - especially those blue light workers who will be working to look after those in need on Christmas Day - keep safe and have a wonderful time over the festive period.