Some thoughts ahead of the New Year, after sitting recently and wondering where on earth we’ll be with things by Christmas 2017! —
Firstly, Commander Christine JONES QPM, the National Police Chief’s Council lead on mental health will be retiring in early 2017 after a distinguished career. She has been the NPCC lead on mental health for the last four years and was a driving force behind the creation of the Crisis Care Concordat which was published in 2014. A fierce supporter of the operational officers who face and take tough decisions every day, often whilst finding themselves in far-from-ideal contexts, I know that she has challenged partner organisations around the extent to which commissioning and fragmentation in health contributes to the extent to which the police service is called upon. What some perhaps haven’t seen is how challenging she is within the service to improve the leadership, oversight and knowledge of the detail around this area.
I remember in 2013 being asked to assist Kent Police with their early work around mental health and they asked me to speak in their lecture theatre to a group of senior and operational officers as well as partners. At the last moment they told me that Commander JONES was attending to listen and it’s one of those rare occasions I suddenly became very nervous indeed! Those who know me well know I just keep my mouth shut rather than say stuff I don’t believe: I think Commander JONES has led us exceptionally well – she’s been a passionate advocate for vulnerable people and for frontline police officers, often saying the things I know many people were only thinking and I’ve watched her standing up to senior healthcare professionals and politicians alike, challenging assumptions and saying things they didn’t always enjoy hearing.
I’m especially grateful for the support she’s afforded me personally, in terms of arguing for my secondment to the College of Policing and in encouraging and supporting me to keep chipping away at issues when she knew I was taking flak. I’ll always be grateful for that, because when you feel like you’re one of the few in a room saying certain things, it’s helpful to have such backing from someone who really understands these agenda.
I wish the Boss nothing but the very best for the future – it’s genuinely been a proper privilege.
Therefore secondly, you should be aware that the NPCC lead on mental health transfers in late January to Chief Constable Mark COLLINS, of Dyfed-Powys Police. Mr COLLINS has already met Commander JONES to start the process of handing over and I’ve already sent him a couple of pages of A4 outlining some headlines that I would recommend he looks at. Top amongst them are the initiatives which fall under the name ‘liaison and diversion’ and ‘street triage’ – there is still more to be understood on both of those issues; from better understanding and defining the concepts through to more thorough research and evaluation of things that go beyond the supposed benefits to the health system.
Mr COLLINS takes over the national lead at a point where forces will be starting to deliver training to officers based on the College of Policing packages that we’ve spent two years developing; he takes over as demand on the police connected to mental health is rising quite sharply but at a point where we still know the overall data we have to understanding that demand and the particular problems is not as comprehensive as it needs to be.
I think it’s great that the lead will transfer to Wales – land of my grandfather(!) and where I studied criminology – because there is plenty of work to do there and the devolved political system for health in Wales, but not for policing, provides a slightly different dynamic to things. Wales published a Crisis Care Condordat at the end of 2015 and are just adjusting to introduction of a new Code of Practice for Wales, which took effect in October 2016. Obviously, Mr COLLINS’s responsibilities for NPCC will cover both England and Wales and as he’s worked at senior level in both countries and overseen various developments around mental health in his last force – he seems ideally placed to lead on this and very keen to become involved.
Keep your eyes open next year: we’re going to see various things worth watching! This will include –
- The Angiolini Report – a review ordered by the Prime Minister in to deaths in police custody will be published early next year. We know that mental health will be one of several important areas of focus and I’m keen to read it, having met with the review team to discuss these matters.
- The Policing and Crime Bill – once this becomes an Act of Parliament, it will be introduced in the Spring and will reduce the use of police cells as a Place of Safety, limiting the time someone can be detained. I know some areas of the country are worried about their ability to work within these new frameworks, but laws being what they are, they’re going to have to find a way.
- New Regulations – the Policing and Crime Bill does not make explicit the ‘exceptional circumstances’ in which police cells can be used as Place of Safety under the MHA: these will emerge in the first quarter of next year and discussion can start about how to give effect to those regulations, given that there doesn’t seem to be a settled, agreed answer about when the use of police cells is acceptable.
- Health Guidelines – the National Collaboration Centre for Mental Health and the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) will each publish new documents about commissioning standards for emergency and crisis mental health care; and mental health in the criminal justice system.
- Restraint Guidelines – the Expert Reference Group chaired by Lord CARLILE will publish it’s first Memorandum of Understanding on police-related restraint in mental health settings in early 2017. It will essentially remind us of the obvious: restrictive healthcare interventions are a matter for the NHS; crime and mitigating unforseeable serious risks can involve th police. Everything else is about managing the gaps and overlaps.
- Coroners’ Inquests – at least two high-profile deaths in custody related to mental health matters. I suspect we’ll be told again to learn lessons that have already been highlighted in previous high-profile tragedies.
- IPCC Inquiries – at least another two high-profile inquiries relating to mental health that should be finalised.
- Criminal Trials – there are two trials due where police officers are accused criminal offences connected to deaths following custody or contact. This is as serious as it gets and the justice system take its course – regardless of outcomes, there will be things we can learn here. It’s important that we do.
MOVE THINGS FORWARD
Finally, some news affecting me amidst all of this! – I am totally chuffed to have been invited by Mr COLLINS to work as his mental health coordinator on his NPCC portfolio for the next couple of years. My secondment at the College of Policing was due up at the end of March anyway and I had started discussions with West Midlands Police about an operational posting for April 2017. Whilst I do intend to end my career in an operational police role I still have at least twelve years left to serve so I’m delighted to be given a chance to keep chipping away at this agenda around mental health when there is still so much left to do.
In fairness, evidence shows that demand on policing connected to mental health is rising – up at least 26% over the last three years – and I’m grateful to West Midlands Police for still affording me the opportunity to push this agenda. So from April 2017, I will be seconded to NPCC via Dyfed-Powys Police working directly to Mr COLLINS, albeit 25% funded by the College of Policing so I can continue to support the work they will need to undertake to keep APP and training materials up to date, in light of all of the above.
I hope you all had a Merry Christmas, that those emergency and health services workers who worked didn’t take too much of a bending and that you all have some chance to enjoy some time with family or friends – Happy New Year!
Winner of the Mind Digital Media Award.