Belfast Telegraph

Work of PSNI 'badly disrupted' helping people with mental health issues

PFNI chair Mark Lindsay
PFNI chair Mark Lindsay

The chair of Northern Ireland's policing union has said that the work of police is being "badly disrupted" due to the amount of time being devoted to helping people with mental health issues.

Police Federation Northern Ireland (PFNI) Chair Mark Lindsay was speaking after a report by the Northern Ireland Audit Office said that the number of cases dealt with by officers had more than doubled to more than 20,000 a-year.

The figure has skyrocketed from 9,000 in 2013 and the incidents dealt with by police frequently do not involve a criminal offence.

Mr Lindsay said that officers were being expected to "plug gaps" in the health care system and that it was proving an "intolerable burden".

He described the current situation as a "silent crisis" and called for an action plan to tackle the issue.

"When officers are removed from their normal duties to help people presenting with mental health issues, they are unable to perform their normal duties," Mr Lindsay said.

“That means that significant numbers of officers are often unavailable. This, in turn, places inordinate pressure on their colleagues. Delivering a service that the public has a right to expect is adversely impacted.

“We simply don’t have the numbers to do all that is required. We are already under-strength and being the service of last resort, the ‘safety net’ for unwell and vulnerable individuals, is taking a heavy toll."

The PFNI chair he hoped the publishing of the report would lead to systematic changes in how mental health issues are dealt with.

“This is a situation that cannot continue. Our hope is that this report sparks a long overdue debate on mental health provision, the role of appropriately qualified health care professionals, financial resources and the unrealistic expectations that are placed on officers," Mr Lindsay said.

“Steps are being taken to improve the services delivered by the PSNI, but there is a need to broaden the discussion to involve other public sector providers and, of course, the government departments responsible for health and justice. There has to be a robust action plan that seriously addresses this growing challenge.

“The PFNI has raised this issue on numerous occasions and is ready and willing to engage with others to find better ways of dealing with what many of us feel is a silent crisis.”

The report from the audit office stated that sometimes police respond to an incident where an individual is exhibiting behaviour suggestive of mental health problems, to the extent that they are perceived to be a risk to themselves or others.

Such events frequently do not involve a criminal offence.

The expectation of those reporting the incident is that police will be able to manage and resolve the situation, the audit office said.

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