EVER since the closure of the Margaret Stanhope Centre, evidence has mounted to show that police officers in Burton have had to pick up the pieces.
Council chiefs, mental health campaigners and even serving police officers have come forward to state that the force is at breaking point since the doors slammed shut on the town’s only inpatient psychiatric facility in 2012.
Calls have been made for mental health nurses to be placed in police stations in a bid to ease the pressure and make sure that those who need it are getting the best help possible.
Now, a new scheme will see police stations in Leicestershire get a slice of a £25 million Government funding pot as part of a pilot scheme to offer ‘timely’ healthcare support for people with mental ill health who come into contact with the criminal justice system.
If it is a success, it could be rolled out nationally and ‘not a minute to soon’ according to various agencies in Burton.
Staffordshire police and crime commissioner Matthew Ellis said: “Officers do have a role in stabilising incidents and keeping people safe but then need the appropriate service to take over.
“Thousands of hours of officer time is spent dealing with these issues when they should be out supporting their communities.
“I want those with the responsibility and the most appropriate skills, to make an effective contribution to the care of such individuals.”
Mr Ellis added that Staffordshire Police dealt with 15,000 cases in 2012, and 19 per cent of all arrests made involved people with mental health issues.
He added: “Staffordshire is not unique and the difficulties experienced here are replicated in other parts of the country.
“The lack of mental health ‘places of safety’ mean police cells are often used and the inadequacy of 24/7 mental health crisis services are a big part of the problem for Burton.
“Current arrangements are failing individuals who need support rather than being criminalising and it is costing more than needed because of inadvertent cost shunting from one public agency to another.”
Previously, the Mail reported how a serving police officer revealed that the axing of inpatient psychiatric services was placing ‘increased pressure’ on policing in East Staffordshire.
The officer, who asked to remain anonymous, told the Mail: “The closure of the Margaret Stanhope is putting increased pressure on the police.
“These people should not be put in a ‘criminal’ environment, this is simply wrong.
“Once at Burton Police Station and, until a healthcare professional is available, a police officer has to sit with the sectioned individual.
“This takes precious police resources off our streets.
“Once an individual has been assessed and requires treatment, police officers (often two) have to transport the detained person to Tamworth.
“These are just some of the ‘hidden’ consequences of the Stanhope closure.”
Health chiefs for ced the closure of the centre in 2012 despite a campaign by the Mail which saw 8,000 people sign a petition to oppose the plans.
Since its closure and the subsequent impact on the police force in the town, calls have been made for extra provision to help take the strain.
This is why news that a Government pilot scheme being used elsewhere, if a success, could prove vital to a town like Burton.
Although the exact amount for the Leicestershire pilot has not yet been announced, it is hoped the pilot – due to launch in April 2014 – will mean:
• Mental health practitioners will be available in custody suites 24 hours per day, seven days a week. This would almost doubles current provision;
• More mental health practitioners will be available to provide specialist support for children and young people; people with learning disabilities, particularly autism, and older people with mental health issues – in particular those with dementia; and
• Specialist mental health support would be available in Leicestershire youth courts.
Chief Inspector Pete Jackson is the project manager for Leicestershire Police.
He said: “This project is an important step towards ensuring that their condition is not the reason they keep returning – they can be signposted to services which may treat their condition, and reduce their likelihood of experiencing a crisis.
“So far there does appear to be a reduction in these repeat visits, although it is too early to be conclusive as other factors may have contributed to this. We can be sure though that it is helping us to deal with these prisoners more appropriately.”