I wrote this post in June 2016 and simply forgot to publish it. Having had a bit of a BLOG clear-out over Christmas where I’ve binned about thirty part-written blogs where I found myself just banging on again and again about the same old thing. However there were a couple I decided to keep and this is one of them, just for personal reasons.
I was thrilled to receive a letter in May, indicating that the Prime Minister wished to put forward my name to Her Majesty the Queen, recommending that I be appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to policing and mental health. Since the announcement, I have been smiling broadly and have laughed out loud a few times, overwhelmed by messages of support from frontline police officers as well as mental health professionals and members of the public. I was delighted but surprised to receive three very lovely letters from Chief Constables Phil GORMLEY and Simon COLE as well as Commander Christine JONES – the last three national policing leads on mental health. It has all been truly humbling but most of all because of those remarks received from people with experience of the police and our mental health system whilst in crisis – those have meant the most. Thank you to everyone who offered congratulations.
I have been told many times that I must be very proud and I’ve repeatedly replied that wasn’t the overwhelming emotion – I mainly just feel vindicated and relieved; and that I hoped this would allow us to push on with getting some things done in the real world. My own view is that we are still talking too much and doing too little on policing and mental health; that real work needs to start soon or momentum will be lost as it slips from the list of priorities. The College of Policing publishing new APP (guidelines) on mental health in October and we have held events across the UK for police forces to learn how the APP and its supporting training packages will need to be delivered in challenging partnership circumstances. In the second half of 2016 and throughout 2017, police forces should be reviewing their local arrangements and training provision to ensure that they are fit for purpose against the new standards; ensuring they can survive contact with accountability mechanisms like the IPCC and HMIC.
But College APP and training will, of themselves, achieve little – it all needs ‘operationalising’ by police forces and their officers and staff in imperfect situations whilst dealing with vulnerable and often complicated people with many complex, unmet needs in an evolving, challenging partnership environment. My time working on this agenda is coming to a conclusion and I will probably be back in West Midlands Police during 2017, so if I can abuse the opportunity of being honoured to say just two things –
- Some areas of the country still maintain partnership arrangements which prevent all agencies from fully discharging the duties and obligations placed upon them, in various situations of mental health crisis to which they are invited – they are too often obliged to choose between complying with local pathways or complying with the law or relevant professionals guidelines. (Examples available on request, but many of them documented on this blog).
- Some police forces are reluctant to challenge this or find it difficult to make progress, despite history telling us it could lead to a disastrous outcome – like a death in police custody – and families affected will never understand why more wasn’t done. I’m still trying to work out whether the police are disinclined to push back against what we too-often see as experts, but I know we need to do more of it if we are to do our best for vulnerable people.
I worry at the moment that the progress we are seeing claimed is not necessarily progress at all – there are still things to learn about how we normalise and over-expose the police to mental health crisis situations where they make things worse, despite their best efforts. That ethical debate hasn’t really begun because we’re still focussed on learning the laws, building basic professional relationships and developing pathways to mental healthcare. To what extent does it criminalise vulnerable people that pathways to crisis care are all too often via the police or with their unnecessary involvement; to what extent does it affect psychological safety and wellbeing of those of us in crisis to be in the ‘care’ of the police for hours or even days, potentially whilst restrained in a cell? We seem to be trying to operate together, but ever-later in the crisis that are under massive strain, as often as possible – we’ve publicly said this is the opposite of what we really need to be doing.
Success in this area should be judged by the improvements seen for those of us who live with mental health problems and when front line officers report that they find this aspect of their job far less difficult to deal with and much less time consuming. So we need to establish whether what we’re now doing works from the patient’s point of view – not from the perspective of organisations.
Winner of the Mind Digital Media Award.