“We don’t want to treat people with mental health problems as criminals,” said Inspector Hassan Khan, part of the Mental Health Response Service (MHRS) which has been launched by Lancashire Constabulary.
“We don’t want to put them in handcuffs and in the back of a police van. We want to put them in an ambulance and make sure they’re referred to the right people for help.”
For the next two years, nine NHS mental health nurses will be on the beat with officers across the county, who can make on-the-spot assessments and referrals, rather than vulnerable people being taken into police custody or to hospital.
With one in four incidents the police attend having some sort of related health issue, the scheme is aimed at reducing demand while ensuring people get the right assistance at the first point of contact.
In addition, from August, three more mental health nurses will also be working within the force control room where 999 calls are answered, monitoring calls and offering advice to those reporting mental health related matters.
Insp Khan said: “Lancashire is very much on par with what is seen nationally - about a quarter of the calls that come in are classified by the operator as having a related mental health issue.
“But in reality it’s more than that - we can get to a job that hasn’t been flagged up and find out once we’re there that there are mental health issues.
“What has happened in the past is the person is transported to hospital - sometimes in handcuffs - and the officer has to stay with them, sometimes for hours.
“This new scheme will hopefully streamline this massively, will reduce the tension and will reduce the pressure on us and the NHS.”
It is hoped vulnerable people can now be referred to GPs and crisis teams at an earlier stage.