Budget cuts hit mental health services

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Budget cuts in social care are putting extra pressure on the police as they are left to handle people with mental health problems.

Police and Crime Commissioner Alan Billings says police are now dealing with more people who have mental health issues when previously other services would have met this demand.

Mr Billings said: “As the public sector shrinks, more and more activity is undertaken by police and that’s very time consuming.

“As partners are forced to reshape services to balance their budgets, their cuts in service can result in extra work for each other – such as the police dealing with people with mental health issues or finding children that have not returned to a children's home at their agreed time.

“This is not sustainable, and is not providing the best service for people who depend on those services to survive, never mind thrive.”

Between January 2017 and October 2017, South Yorkshire Police had 6,537 incidents which qualified as mental health.

The charity Sheffield Mind says there is a pilot service in Kent with a phone number similar to 101 but callers speak to mental health charities, freeing up police time.

Margaret Lewis of Sheffield Mind said: “We have seen an increase in people seeking help, possibly because we are in a new, more prominent location in Sharrow but also because more people need help.

“We had someone recently who came in with the intention of ending their life and we had to involve the police and paramedics.

“In general, we are taking calls from people who are distressed or often are calling about a relative. People don’t know where to go for help or they tell us that the services they’re already using have been cut. The council has to save money and is very much pressurised by economic restraints.

“If somebody is thinking about mental health they often think of Mind and find us as a first port of call. We can advise them on how to navigate the system and sometimes they may be eligible for one of our services.”

Sheffield Mind relies heavily on donations and fundraising and is also struggling with rising costs.

Sheffield Council says it has put a number of measures in place including working directly with police to support them.

Mel Hall, strategic commissioning manager of mental health at Sheffield Council, said: “We know that it is vital that we work together and have introduced a Street Triage which gives South Yorkshire Police easy and quick access to mental health advice and access to professionals for advice.

“We’ve done this so that people feel less criminalised when they need urgent mental health help.

“We’re also funding a mental health professional to work directly with the police to help police officers deal with calls when there is a mental health crisis and to develop their skills; an investment of £152,000 from Sheffield Council designed to support Sheffield’s policing.

“Last year, we opened a health based place of safety for children where police can bring a child if it appears that they need urgent mental health intervention. This means that no child should be taken into police custody just so they can access a mental health act assessment.

“We have commissioned ‘Flourish’ to provide information to the public and professionals which promotes local activities, shares stories and volunteering opportunities. It helps people to access the right help.”