Metropolitan Police to Stop Attending 999 Calls Linked to Mental Health Incidents

From 31st August 2023, the Metropolitan Police will stop attending 999 calls relating to mental health.

This was announced in a letter from the Commissioner of the Police of the Metropolis, Sir Mark Rowley, to health and social care services. The only exception put forward was threat to life.

The announcement comes after Humberside Police implemented their Right Care, Right Person (RCRP) movement in 2020, in an attempt to provide patients with trained mental health professionals, instead of police officers, in times of need.

How Many Mental Health Calls Were the Met Receiving?

Between 2017-2022, there were 874,085 emergency calls made to this police force on the basis of mental health. Of these calls, 232,685 led to police attendance.

In cases where the Met deems it necessary to visit the caller, there are various factors that result in large amounts of officer time being dedicated to these calls.

As well as arriving at the destination and assessing the risk, officers may need to wait for an ambulance, refer the patient to another service and wait for a mental health professional to arrive.

What is the Reason Behind This Change?

According to Sir Mark Rowley, this change was necessary in order for the Met to free up time to deal with crime, and for the public to receive better mental health care.

The final straw for Rowley was on the 28th-29th April 2023, when a record 9,292 mental health calls were made. Just one third of these calls involved crime.

Rowley has argued that the volume of calls is unsustainable for officers. They are spending 10,000 hours per month managing mental health issues, which includes an average waiting time of 14 hours to transfer care to a health care professional.

The Commissioner states that this does not only take valuable time away from dealing with crime, but it also results in lower quality care for patients. While mental health professionals possess all of the training necessary to help patients in crisis, police officer training is comparatively lacking in this area.

What Will Happen When the Met Receives a Mental Health Call?

It still stands that urgent mental health calls involving a threat to life will be attended by the Met Police. However, all other calls will now be dealt with differently.

999 responders will either dispatch a police officer as well as a mental health professional or inform the caller that they must contact mental health services instead of the police.

How Will This Change Impact Mental Health in Mayfair?

There are two camps when it comes to reactions to the Met Police letter.

It could be argued that mental health support can only improve when we select the appropriate people to help (i.e., mental health workers). This could save people from receiving low-quality advice from police officers, or not getting the empathy they deserve.

There is also the advantage of the police having more time to tackle crime, which could improve mental health overall. We know that poor mental health is linked to a lack of safety, crime, abuse and neglect, and if police resources are allocated to these areas, mental illness statistics could potentially decline.

However, many people believe that the decision to stop dispatching police officers for mental health matters could have devastating consequences in Mayfair and other Greater London areas.

If mental health services were well-funded, perhaps this initiative would result in more vulnerable people getting the help they need. Yet, the reality in the UK is long waiting lists and poor availability of NHS resources.

A statement from the CEO of the leading mental health charity Mind, Sarah Hughes, emphasises the importance of rolling out new plans ‘carefully and collectively so that no one is left without support’.

Former Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary, Zoe Billingham, agrees with this sentiment. She has stated that we require millions in investments to improve UK mental health services.

Arguably, even if a 999 mental health call doesn’t involve a threat to life, any form of mental illness is a threat to life, and this threat only worsens when support is not provided to people in crisis.

Getting Help For Mental Health in Mayfair

It is important to recognise that there is still help for people with an emergency mental health problem. 999 responders will still send Met police officers to deal with these issues. There is also the option of going to A&E for emergency mental health care.

Less urgent issues can either be handled by getting NHS treatment through the GP or paying for private care. Services in London such as Rehab Recovery offers private referrals to people in Mayfair dealing with substance and behavioural addictions. The waiting lists are often less than a week, and the treatments are some of the best in the UK.

Some charities provide helplines and chat services for people who want to access help quickly. Samaritans, Mind and Papyrus UK are all great examples.

There are also mental health support groups in Mayfair and the surrounding areas. These groups can be based on shared experiences (e.g., caring for people, being a parent or being a teenager) and mental illnesses (e.g., bipolar disorder, OCD, anxiety, PTSD, depression).

Simply search your specific location and issue online and find a relevant support group. Alternatively, you can find a mental health charity offering support groups and use their search tool to locate a group in Mayfair.

Some support groups within a reasonable distance of Mayfair are:

  • Camden Crisis Sanctuary, Camden
  • Rain On Me, Charing Cross Library
  • Women’s Consortium, Islington

FAQs About the Met Police Letter & UK Mental Health

Does Right Care, Right Person (RCRP) Work?

As the RCRP method was only introduced in 2020, it’s difficult to say whether it’s been beneficial or detrimental.

According to Humberside Police statistics, their officers are attending 508 fewer incidents per month, which saves a total of 1,440 police hours. This suggests the scheme is working well for the police, and it will most likely also be effective in Greater London.

However, there is no doubt that RCRP will have negatively impacted people in the UK. Just because it has been a success for the police does not mean that it has been a positive thing for the nation’s mental health crisis.

Will Other Police Forces Adopt RCRP?

Now that Humberside Police and the Met Police have both moved to the RCRP approach, it is likely that other police forces will follow.

However, this is dependent on many factors, including the success of RCRP.

Due to the outcry from mental health charities and the general public, it is possible that many police forces will stay away from the RCRP method. We cannot predict this.

How Will 999 Responders Know What Counts As an Emergency?

One of the biggest concerns about the contents of the Met Police letter is that 999 responders will not always know when it is necessary to dispatch a police officer.

Though Rowley has claimed that any incidents involving a threat to life will be attended, it will be very challenging for emergency medical dispatchers to quickly assess the situation and determine whether this threat is present over the phone.

While this may save police time, there is no doubt that certain urgent incidents will be neglected as a result of 999 call handlers making the wrong decision. This is just one reason there has been a significant negative public reaction to the Met Police letter.

How Has the Government Responded to This Change?

The government has not responded to the Met Police’s decision to implement RCRP. If the change results in a rise in mental health crises, it is possible that the government will be forced to take action.

In fact, this is an argument that has been made in favour of RCRP; if it becomes evident that people are struggling without police visits, there will be a greater need for better mental health services.

However, there is no guarantee that this will happen, which is a deep concern for many.

Which Charities Deal With Mental Health in the UK?

There are many different mental health charities in the UK for people with a range of problems. If you have a non-urgent issue, you can contact these charities for support.

Some examples are:

  • CALM
  • Samaritans
  • Mind
  • Rethink Mental Illness
  • YoungMinds
  • Men’s Health Forum
  • Anxiety UK
  • Bipolar UK
  • OCD UK
  • Narcotics Anonymous
  • Alcoholics Anonymous