Today sees the launch of the long-awaited Mental Health Crisis Care Concordat. Part vision statement, part action plan, it sets out how agencies can work together to deliver high quality mental health crisis care to all those who need it. It’s a strong statement of intent and we have to hope that the funding will follow. I’m also pleased to see it echoes many of the good practice examples and recommendations I’ve included in my forthcoming report!
Although the proof will be in the delivery, one of the real strengths of this document is its whole-system approach. It doesn’t just focus on one agency or one intervention point. It talks about prevention, early intervention, alternatives to admission and recovery – concepts which can often get lost when the focus is on acute or crisis care. There is a strong emphasis on the rights and voice of the person in crisis through discussion of care planning and choice, where this is appropriate.
The document also focuses on the importance of local partnerships in bringing about change and delivering high quality services. Although the signatories of the Concordat are all national organisations, their hope is that the principles of the Concordat will be realised at a local level. This will be achieved through local Mental Health Crisis Declarations, jointly agreed across the NHS, local authorities and criminal justice agencies. These declarations should include a local action plan, a commitment to reduce the use of police cells as a place of safety and local governance arrangements. However it is important that this goes beyond words and plans – there has to be a real commitment of funding and buy-in of commissioners to support this.
For me, the real potential of this document is to raise expectations around mental health crisis care. Last year’s community mental health survey by the Care Quality Commission showed that only 61% of people had an out of hours number for their mental health team. Of those that had used the number, only half definitely felt they got the help they needed. If we are committed to parity between mental and physical health we have to demand better than this. A 50% satisfaction rate wouldn’t be acceptable in A&E and it’s not acceptable in mental health crisis care.
A series of statements at the beginning of the document show what people using mental health services want to see from a crisis care system. These are the core of the document and it’s important they don’t get forgotten as each stakeholder gets stuck in to their parts of the action plan. The ambition should be to reach the standard set by these statements, and then to keep on improving. A focus on mental health crisis care has been a long time coming – it’s important that we all keep up the pressure to maintain the momentum.
Yesterday was a good day, and not just because of a certain North London football result! Yesterday also saw a commitment from the Treasury to fund further liaison and diversion pilots in 10 areas. This will involve posting mental health staff in police custody suites and courts so that mental illness is identified at the earliest possible opportunity and the right support is offered.
Now the part of this proposal that predictably grabbed the headlines was the policing bit as this is the earliest, and often the most fraught, point of intervention. I have outlined in a number of earlier blogs why this is the case and some of the challenges facing police, especially when they come into contact with someone in crisis. A lack of appropriate referral routes and mental health support mean the police are often stuck between a rock and a hard place. I have also outlined some examples of the existing liaison and diversion work going on in the UK – street triage in Leicester and the use of community psychiatric nurses in custody suites in Cornwall. It’s important to note that liaison and diversion in itself isn’t new – what was announced yesterday was funding to pilot a core model informed by the pilots that have been running for the last few years. Liaison and diversion teams also don’t operate in a vacuum and having the right services available for them to divert people to will be key to their success.
What I wanted to do in this blog was really give a plug for the potential for the court side of this scheme. We all know the shockingly high statistics for mental health prevalence in prisons. 70% of people in prison are believed to have two or more mental health problems, though these are stats from 1998 and badly need updating. (As an aside we have to have a better understanding of the extent of mental health need in the criminal justice system and more robust data collection has a key role to play in this.). Courts and sentencing are a crucial juncture where better informed decision making could have a real impact on people’s lives.
Having mental health professionals able to offer advice and expertise at this stage is a really positive step. So many people get to court without any underlying mental health needs or other vulnerabilities being picked up. In some cases these people might already be known to mental health services, but no-one has joined the dots. These needs are therefore not taken into account at sentencing, where there is a real opportunity to divert people away from unnecessary, and expensive, prison sentences.
Community sentences with a Mental Health Treatment Requirement (MHTR), for example, could be used to ensure people get the treatment they need as part of their rehabilitation. These are currently grossly under-used compared to what we believe is the prevalence of mental health in the criminal justice system – 1% of all Community Orders has a MHTR. While there are multiple reasons for this, and not all of them will be fixed through liaison and diversion, a key part is information available at the point of sentencing. Mental health input at this point could therefore lead to better-informed sentencing and, hopefully, better outcomes in terms of health and reoffending.
Last week I spent a shift with PC Alex Crisp and members of the street triage team up in Leicestershire. A lot has been said about street triage – it has spawned many newspaper articles and Government announcements. I think some of this coverage has led to a slightly simplistic view of what the model is about so I was pleased to have the opportunity to go up and see it for myself.
The street triage model in Leicestershire is a co-response model – a police officer and a mental health nurse work together to respond to incidents. The key to this model is that decisions are informed by both the mental health and policing side, leading to more appropriate responses to people in crisis. The team was originally set up to reduce section 136 detentions and A+E admissions, although the work of the team has become more wide-ranging than that. They have taken ownership of repeat and complex cases in the area and are facilitating joint professional meetings to bring mental health and criminal justice professionals in the area together.
In Leicestershire the nurses who work in the team are all crisis nurses who rotate between shifts in the street triage car, custody suites, courts and probation. They therefore have a large amount of expertise of crisis assessments and the criminal justice system. The team don’t just offer support in person, they also are able to advise over the phone and via the police radio. The response officer in the team keeps an eye on the incoming police calls to see where support might be needed, and the nursing staff has access to mental health records for any information that might help inform decision-making and risk-management in these situations. If the street triage car does attend an incident, the nurses are able to do mental health assessments and make referrals to appropriate services there and then.
PC Crisp describes the street triage team as mental health tactical advisers – a ‘profession within a profession’. Frontline police have really welcomed the introduction of the street triage team to help support better decision-making in mental health incidents. One of the biggest advantages is a more positive attitude to risk – mental health staff and police handle risk in very different ways and there is a feeling that a joint approach has led to less intrusive resolutions to incidents.
Before I went up to Leicester, I have to say I was a little sceptical about some elements of the model. However having now seen it in action I think it’s a really positive initiative. It doesn’t solve every problem – I don’t think any of the models I’ve seen over the course of my travels do – but closer working between mental health professionals and police is clearly having a real impact. I’m really looking forward to seeing how PC Crisp’s plans for developing the model pan out!
In the past two weeks there have been two fatal incidents involving people with mental illness being detained by police. A lot has been written about this online – people are angry that these incidents continue to happen and lessons aren’t learnt, despite all the talk at a national level about this issue. Rather than adding to this I wanted to share this great blog, which sums up the frustration the police feel when these incidents occur. You should also check out Nathan’s other posts – he has a lot to say and it’s all very interesting…
Today Ben Ferguson published an article in the Guardian on policing and mental health. He highlights the amount of police time taken up with mental health calls and how the lack of available mental health beds put extra pressure on police.
For me, the key part of his article is that people in crisis have nowhere else to go. This is true before and after people have detained by police. A recent CQC survey of community mental health services showed that only 61% people know an out of hours contact number for their mental health team. Only half of people who access this number find it definitely helps.
Ben Ferguson’s article outlines some of the frustrations the police face in getting people treatment and support. Full mental health units, long waits for assessments and people being discharged when the police know they’ll be called to the same situatuon in a few days.
I am by no means saying we need more involuntary treatment. What I’d like to see are more options available to police and mental health professionals so that it doesn’t simply become a case of sectioning or not sectioning someone. Something like the crisis receiving centres or safe bed programmes from previous posts could provide an alternative. They can reduce the amount of time police need to be involved. They can be a gateway to a whole range of other short-term or long-term services, without the need for involuntary detention. They might not be appropriate in every case. But they could provide that crucial ‘somewhere else to go’ that people so badly need.
And so all good things come to an end. Tonight I head back to the UK to write up all the illegible notes I’ve scribbled down over the last few weeks and try and turn it into something coherent. I can’t really believe this part of my Fellowship is over already, but I’m looking forward to working on my final report and trying to work out how some of the things I’ve seen might benefit us in the UK.
My plan is to keep the blog going while I work on the report – highlighting research I come across, posting case studies and commenting on any relevant policy announcements that might come along. Thanks for sticking with me over the last 11,000 miles and I hope you will still check in occasionally. I’ll also be posting my final report here when it’s done.
And finally, just to prove my theory there is an Ella Fitzgerald song for every occasion, here she is with Flying Home. Enjoy….