Mental Health-related Incidents

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 28 February 2024.

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Photo of Jamie Greene Jamie Greene Conservative

3. Presiding Officer, I draw your attention to the fact that we are having some technical issues with the consoles at the rear of the chamber.

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to reported comments by Police Scotland’s chief constable that the force deals with over 100,000 mental health-related incidents each year. (S6O-03128)

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

I am grateful to police officers for all that they do to support people who are in distress or are experiencing mental ill health. The Scottish Government and the Scottish Police Authority have established a multi-agency group to implement a comprehensive programme of work to improve pathways in order to support those in need to access the right service at the right time and to reduce demand on officers. We are ensuring that resources are targeted at specific programmes, such as the enhanced mental health pathway for people in distress or in need of mental health support who come into contact with Police Scotland.

Photo of Jamie Greene Jamie Greene Conservative

The chief constable made it clear that that volume of incidents equates to about 600 full-time officers’ worth of work. An immense amount of resource is involved in dealing with such incidents, and we would be better served if that resource was used to deal with or prevent crime. The reality is that the police pick up the pieces when other public services are not available out of hours—for example, general practices, accident and emergency services, mental health services and social care services simply shut down at 5 pm on a Friday and are not available until Monday morning.

Everybody knows that the status quo cannot continue. What is the cabinet secretary doing right now to alleviate the pressure on police so that they do not become the first port of call for all health emergencies?

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

I agree that the status quo cannot continue. That is why, in my original answer, I was at pains to stress that we are implementing, in partnership with others, a comprehensive programme of work. I am happy to write to Mr Greene with the full details of that work.

All interested stakeholders and partners are facing in the same direction. We have a clear programme for government commitment, following the thematic review of policing mental health by His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland. I am sure that the inspectorate and the Parliament’s Criminal Justice Committee and Public Audit Committee will hold the Government’s feet to the fire on the issue. There is immense will to resolve it, and a lot of energy is going into that. Police officers have a role in emergency situations in which further assessment is required, but we must be better at following best practice in facilitating a safe and appropriate handover to professionals who are better placed to support people in need.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

A couple of members would like to ask supplementary questions. If the questions and responses are not brief, I will intervene.

Photo of Fulton MacGregor Fulton MacGregor Scottish National Party

Not only has research attributed declining trends in mental health to a decade of Tory austerity, but the United Kingdom Government continues to slash Scotland’s funding for public services, which massively undermines our ability to respond to people in crisis. In that deeply challenging context, what work is the Scottish Government undertaking with Police Scotland and other partners on the response to mental health incidents?

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

The Scottish Government’s significant investment in justice and mental health services is now all the more significant, given the UK Government’s new age of austerity. Yesterday, we passed a budget that includes £19.5 billion for the health and social care portfolio, and I am very pleased that the Scottish Police Authority’s resource budget has increased by nearly 6 per cent, which will protect front-line policing, and that we are increasing the available capital budget, too.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

It is helpful that the Scottish Government has recognised the need for change in relation to police officers dealing with cases of people experiencing a mental health crisis. The Scottish Police Federation has said that we need a triage system that links up services to ensure that people get the help that they need quickly. Will the cabinet secretary consider, as part of the work that she mentioned, a collaboration between health and justice services to create a triage service so that people get the help that they need and we free up police time?

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

In short, that is exactly what we are doing as part of the comprehensive programme of work. We are considering the interface between justice and health services.