Increased demand on MPS related to mental health

MQT on 2017-09-14
Session date: 
September 14, 2017
Question By: 
Onkar Sahota
Labour Group
Asked Of: 
The Mayor


The Metropolitan Police Service received a phone call related to mental health every five minutes last year. This represents an increase of almost one third compared to 2011-12. ( What do you think has caused the rise in demand and how is the Met coping with the increase?


Answer for Increased demand on MPS related to mental health

Answer for Increased demand on MPS related to mental health

Answered By: 
The Mayor

Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  Thank you for raising this important matter with me.  It brings together two key areas, ensuring that we have an effective police service that keeps Londoners safe but also tackling health inequalities and improving mental health in London.  Over the last year the MPS received an average of 5,932 calls per month, 1,835 per week and an astonishing 262 per day.  About 20% of these calls to police came from hospitals and mental health units.  There is no simple answer to the question of what has caused the rise in demand.  This is a very complex matter. 


We all know there are significant financial challenges right across the public sector and a recent NHS survey has suggested staff shortages and changes in mental health commissioning structures are having a detrimental impact on their ability to ensure sufficient mental health provision.  This comes down to a systemic failure across the health and justice system caused by lack of Government funding and a refusal to adequately invest in areas that our communities need most, in this case the police and health service need.  Time and again, we see a surge of pressure on other services result in the police being pulled into areas where they are not best placed to respond.  The police and health services are currently stretched to their limit and this is why I repeat my call for greater devolution in London, including healthcare funding, and a reversal of the cuts to police budgets. 


The fact remains, though, I say by way of conclusion, that continued budgetary pressures are a risk to the success we have already achieved.  We cannot allow this to continue and for the police to fill the gaps that other agencies cannot. 


Dr Onkar Sahota AM:  Thank you for that very comprehensive response, Mr Mayor.  You will of course know that the HMIC says that by the time the police become involved, many opportunities to intervene to prevent mental health deteriorating to a point where people are in danger have already been missed.  This is both ineffective and expensive.  In a well‑ordered and compassionate society, we should not rely upon law enforcement officers to support people who need medical care.  The severe problems with mental health provision in this country are not only failing those who need treatment but also creating an unacceptable strain on the police force.  Inspector Michael Brown, the Mental Health Coordinator of the College of Policing, said that most people in contact with police about mental health issues do not need the police, they need mental health professionals.  Would you agree that this is an underfunded police service having to pick up the pieces of an underfunded NHS?


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  Yes.  The thing that is always remarkable is how we expect the police to pick up the pieces.  A lot of these problems should be dealt with by mental health professionals.  There are all sorts of challenges in the NHS that you will be well aware of from personal experience, but let me just give you a couple of numbers.  Roughly speaking, in London, more than 2 million of us have poor mental health.  That is one out of four or one out of five Londoners.  Because of the gaps in provision in social care and healthcare, often people are not helped and often the police have to step in.


One of the things we need to do is change the attitude around mental health.  Thrive LDN, which I know you support and are an advocate for, will hopefully lead to a movement in London to try to, at an early stage, help people with mental health issues, but it is important to recognise - and I do not want to use a phrase which others do, ‘drain on resources’ - that when the police have finite resources and they have to prioritise, it does not make sense to me for them to spend 20% of their time responding to calls around issues that should be being dealt with elsewhere.  When you speak to those who are supposed to be ‘elsewhere’, they will also complain about budgetary pressures which mean they cannot respond and help people who need them. 


Dr Onkar Sahota AM:  Thank you for that, Mr Mayor, and thank you for all the support you give to mental health services and to the police. 


Tony Arbour AM (Deputy Chairman in the Chair):  Thank you very much.