People in a mental health crisis are not getting the support they need


Nine months ago, the government announced the police would stop responding to calls involving people in mental distress if there was no risk of immediate harm. In this blog, Kirsten from our policy team shares concerns about how the plan is working.

The responsibilities of the police in the UK include protecting life and property, preserving order, preventing the commission of offences and bringing offenders to justice. As part of this, the Police used to respond to incidents where someone was experiencing a mental health crisis. 

That all changed in July 2023. After concerns about the level of resources used, and how many 999 calls about mental ill health had no safety risk or crime, the police believed they were the wrong agency to get involved.  

By not responding to calls about mental ill health where there was no risk of immediate harm, the police stated they would save one million hours of police time 

The National Partnership Agreement, ‘Right Care, Right Person’, was introduced last summer by policing, health, and other relevant partners to ensure people going through a mental health crisis are seen by the right professional. 

We know that police involvement in calls about mental ill health can be problematic 

Black and ethnic minority people are disproportionately subject to excessive force and tasering. And when the police are called to incidents where the intersection of race meets with mental ill health, in too many cases it has had a devastating end result.  

INQUEST’s 2023 report ‘I Can’t Breathe: Race, Death & British Policing’ details the stories of five Black men who died because of contact with the police while experiencing a mental health crisis. Excessive use of restraint has come up as the leading causing of death in these cases. 

There are a lack of health-based places of safety and people in mental distress can be inappropriately detained in police or prison cells. This is degrading, distressing and prevents people in acute need from receiving appropriate treatment and support. 

A recent Channel 4 series, ‘To Catch a Copper’, showed despicable cruelty and violence by police officers towards a female who was in mental distress and feeling suicidal; and often, the very presence of police in a mental health crisis can increase distress. 

While it is clear the police are not the right agency to respond to someone in mental health crisis, we were concerned about the speed and manner that Right Care, Right Person was being implemented.  

Without thorough multi-agency planning and adequate government funding to allow health services to increase their resources and respond in the police’s place, people in mental distress could be left without the support they need. 

Local police forces and Integrated Care Boards were advised under the agreement to work together on detailed plans to ensure people who call 999 in acute mental distress receive the right response and support.  

Stakeholders have told us there has been a disconnect in a number of local areas between what has been agreed and what actually happens when someone rings the police. Reports even state how people calling are told to simply ‘seek medical help.’   

This leaves vulnerable people without immediate support. And the health services who could provide that support are potentially unaware of the person’s needs. There should be no wrong door. If someone needs urgent help, they should receive it when they ask for it, not left to search for the right agency. 

Within the six months since the agreement was published, we know of seven deaths that have been linked to failings by Right Care, Right Person. But we expect the actual number to be devastatingly much higher.  

Norfolk Constabulary have paused Right Care, Right Person in response to a tragic case in January where a lack of police support or adequate handover to health services has been implicated in the deaths of a young family. 

Right Care, Right Person must be paused on a national level 

The government must not allow any more lives to be put at risk by allowing Right Care, Right Person to continue until we can be sure that the £260million needed to make it work has been allocated to health services to allow them to properly develop and establish the resources.  

Effective Right Care, Right Person responses also require social care input, which means even more funding. 

There must be rigorous and transparent oversight and monitoring arrangements established. The local Right Care, Right Person plans developed between police forces and Integrated Commissioning Boards must be signed off by a Health Minister and Home Office minister before police forces are able to step back from responding to 999 calls about a person in acute mental distress. 

Transparent monitoring of the implementation of Right Care, Right Person plans must happen both locally and nationally. There must be a clear plan for measuring success and escalating concerns to help establish accountability around the process. The monitoring should be multi-agency and include voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations. It must not be done behind closed doors. 

Emergency services exist to support people who need emergency help. Organisations must work together to ensure this happens, and people with acute mental health needs should have confidence that help will be there when they need it.