Charities left in dark over police dropping welfare checks

Police, fire and crime commissioner Zoe Metcalfe Picture: LDRS

A police commissioner has pledged to investigate why charities which provide key support for vulnerable people in crisis have been overlooked before the introduction of controversial changes to the way the emergency services respond to calls over mental health concerns.

A meeting of North Yorkshire and York’s Police, Fire and Crime Panel heard numerous charities across the area had remained unaware for several months of North Yorkshire Police’s decision to launch Right Care, Right Person in January.

The meeting heard the force had stopped doing any welfare checks on vulnerable adults when asked to do so by charities, sparking concerns that more lives could be lost to suicide.

The revelation comes just days after mental health charity Mind condemned the national roll-out of the initiative, saying it would be “simply impossible to take a million hours of support out of the system without replacing it with investment and mental health services”.

Right Care, Right Person is an operational model developed by Humberside Police that changes the way the emergency services respond to calls involving concerns about mental health.

It is in the process of being rolled out across the UK as part of ongoing work between police forces, health providers and Government and is aimed at making sure the right agency deals with health-related calls, instead of the police being the default first responder as is currently the case in most areas.

Police forces claim it has been shown to improve outcomes, reduce demand on all services, and make sure the right care is being delivered by the right person.

Mags Godderidge, chief executive of York-based sexual abuse survivors charity Survive, told the meeting while charities in the area had traditionally alerted to police when they were concerned for the welfare of a person, there had been no consultation about the change in policy.

She said it was alarming charities had “been left with the message ‘we are not pitching out if you are worried about one of your clients’”.

Ms Gooderidge told Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner Zoe Metcalfe: “It seems to me this policy has already been rolled out, and it has been rolled out without considering the charities who are working with some of the most vulnerable people in society and… know someone is destablising.

“They have complex emotional needs and are high-risk suicide, and if we’re saying this person is high-risk suicide, we need someone to go to the house, we need to know, as a sector, that someone is going to go to the house.

“What I’m trying to work out is when did anybody consult with the charity sector?”

Mrs Metcalfe said she supported the rationale of Right Care, Right Person to hand responsibility to mental health care providers, NHS representatives, local authorities and the ambulance service.

She said: “In the middle of all of this is a person who is in crisis, who needs the right care from the right person. Sometimes it isn’t the police who is the right person to be able to give them the support that they need.”

Mrs Metcalfe said her officers were closely monitoring the impact of the initiative, examining case studies, and examining other agencies’ capacity to take on the work.

She said: “I have also fed into the College of Policing, as nationally they want to roll it out.

“I have have said how we are doing it in North Yorkshire seems to be working really well, in a really collaborative manner with our stakeholders, in a timely manner, and that seems to be going down well with everybody.”

The force’s chief constable, Lisa Winward, said all statutory services, such as the NHS, had been consulted over the move.

She added: “We will absolutely as a police service respond to those people in crisis that are at risk of suicide. We haven’t stopped attending those incidents and we won’t stop attending those incidents.

“We have cases where police attendance at some of those incidents have caused more distress to some individuals who need a health professional.”

Ms Winward said since launching the initiative 3,700 police officer hours had been saved “that warranted police powers should be being used for instead”, such as investigating crimes.

She said: “I do think the holistic benefit to our communities will be borne out of people receiving the right care.”