This week I joined the Met Police SW London Ride-Along blue light night shift with ‘I Series’ Immediate Response Team, target 15 minutes ETA, to emergencies including danger to life, threat of violence or serious injury or damage to property. Sirens blaring, adrenalin pumping, we zig-zagged at full-throttle across SW London.
Over 8 hours, my two co-pilots handled fast-moving, high risk, live situations from road traffic collisions, ambulances, and paramedics, "136" and "merlin" mental health emergencies, cardiac arrest, alarms, shoplifting, missing persons, anti-social behaviour, domestic violence and more, with courage, compassion, skill and experience.
With mental health emergencies nationally up by 2/5ths since before the pandemic, I was fascinated to understand more about mental health emergencies which I see from the hospital side all too visibly when I'm working as a volunteer in Kingston Hospital A&E, where police officers routinely provide suicide watch guard for hours on end, tying up short resources in beds, doctors and police.
The Met Police Despatch Unit cited short staffing challenges – despite, they say, having record numbers of new recruits and staffing levels which have not translated on to front line resource. Of the night shift 14 officers, 4 of these were tied up with 2 sectioned patients in A&E, putting the rest of the team under immense pressure. They also said that after 24 hours the patient can walk free and expose themselves to further risk and cycle of police interventions.
During Covid, SW London St Georges Mental Health NHS Trust (SWL STG) opened Orchid Emergency Mental Health for acute and urgent patients with on-call mental health expertise and safeguarding environment to receive and treat patients brought in by police, ambulance or referral from the Trust’s 24/7 mental health support line, allowing police to hand over patients for immediate treatment and return to front line policing. The SW London Met dispatch team lamented the closure of Orchid at the end of Covid, which they said had been “transformational”.
The current Coral Mental Health Crisis Hub 24/7 single point Triage from trained mental health professionals offers assessment, and signposting to A&E and Home Treatment Teams across the boroughs. They monitor occupancy and resource across key locations including A&Es in Kingston and St Georges and St Heliers plus Tolworth, Springfield, Livingstone, and Maddison.
Responding to research that showed 8/10 sectioned patients would have benefited more from community support than hospital admission, SWL STG are now launching Right Care Right Person, to provide police with 24/7 advice and rapid support triaging for the despatch of the most appropriate NHS or Met resource.
COO SWL STG, Jen Allan, said: “Our 24/7 advice line for police officers and the Right Care, Right Person approach … ensures the most appropriate professional provides support, improving patients’ experience and outcomes.”
Helen Edward concluded, “As Parliamentary Spokesperson for Kingston, I will work with the NHS and the Met to support the partnership and improve mental health emergency treatment.”
Conservative Parliamentary Spokesperson for Kingston and Surbiton
3 Bridle Close, Kingston, KT1 2JW