Police (Response to Individuals Experiencing Mental Ill Health)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 5th December 2019.

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Photo of John Mason John Mason Scottish National Party

4. To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to reduce the amount of time that the police spend assisting people with mental health issues on matters that should not require their presence. (S5O-03876)

Photo of Clare Haughey Clare Haughey Scottish National Party

I thank John Mason for raising this important issue.

The Scottish Government, Police Scotland and partners are committed to working together to ensure that the right service provides the right response for individuals experiencing mental ill health. It is widely recognised that Police Scotland plays a significant role in assisting and safeguarding individuals who present to services in emotional or mental health-related distress or who are vulnerable in a variety of ways.

We have a collective responsibility to address the complex issues that arise from mental ill health. Police Scotland is working hard with partners to gain a clear picture of mental health-related demand so that we can fully understand the demand that is placed on our front-line officers and, importantly, so that we can work together to deliver the best outcomes for individuals.

We are continuing to deliver on the commitment that is set out in our programme for government to develop a 21st century approach to adult mental health. That includes our intention to establish a new adult mental health collaborative and the creation of the new multi-agency distress intervention group to develop and oversee new approaches to improving collaborative responses to distress. We are also on course to deliver our commitment to 800 additional mental health workers in four priority settings: accident and emergency, general practices, custody suites and prisons.

Photo of John Mason John Mason Scottish National Party

I thank the minister for that answer, and I am glad that progress is being made. I spent a day with the police in August, and the subject came up repeatedly. If a police officer takes someone with mental health issues to accident and emergency, they have to stay with that person, which can be for some time. Is there another system whereby somebody from the health service could take over and release the police officers in such instances?

Photo of Clare Haughey Clare Haughey Scottish National Party

As I stated in my initial response, we know that police officers often play a significant and valuable role in assisting those in mental health distress. However, it is crucial that we develop a strong collaborative approach, with public services, the third sector and communities working together to improve support for those with mental ill health.

Police Scotland’s new call-handling approach is being rolled out across Scotland, and it is already helping the service to respond more effectively to demand, putting resource where it is most needed and ensuring that people receive the support that best meets their needs. Working with other partners to address risk and vulnerability is a key feature of that approach. In addition, a new mental health hub service has been operational since March 2019, delivering dedicated support to people who contact Police Scotland in mental health distress, with calls referred to psychological wellbeing practitioners.

The distress intervention group that I mentioned, in which Police Scotland is a key partner, will provide strategic leadership across the Scottish justice and health and social care sectors to ensure that more effective pathways are available to people who present to public services in distress.

Photo of David Stewart David Stewart Labour

I endorse Mr Mason’s concerns. Will the minister again examine the supply and availability of medium and low secure facilities for those with serious mental health issues, as was raised at the Health and Sport Committee this week?

Photo of Clare Haughey Clare Haughey Scottish National Party

Mr Stewart will be aware that we are holding a review of all our forensic mental health services. The review is led by Derek Barron and we expect it to report next summer. The review’s remit covers high, low and medium secure community forensic mental health services.