Mental health care in Wiltshire can involve a long journey; a journey a person in mental health crisis has to take - one which is controlled and affected by many parties - one of which is the police.
Back in September 2015, a mental health triage pilot was established. It started with a health professional in our Devizes control room and another available at peak hours to accompany officers out from Gablecross in Swindon. After a six month trial it was agreed to extend the hours of cover within the control room and remove the 'on street' cover. Cover in the control room was from 8.30am to midnight, seven days a week.
The control room mental health team supports officers who are called to mental health incidents and has access to both our systems and, more importantly, the patient records of those to whom assistance is sent. The service was paid for by Wiltshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), Swindon CCG, and my office (OPCC) in equal proportions.
As the number of mental health incidents continued to rise, the budget for 2017/2018 was also increased, and the three partners provided funding for 24 hour cover, seven days a week.
In December 2017, the provisions of the Police and Crime Act 2017 came into effect and this stated that custody units should not be used as a place of safety at all for under 18s, and only in very exceptional circumstances for adults.
But a place of safety is not just a physical space. It is a place at which a patient's mental health can be assessed by a doctor and qualified mental health practitioner from the local authority.
During 2017, it was agreed that one such place, suitably staffed, would be created for the residents of Wiltshire and Swindon at Green Lane in Devizes. The Bluebell Unit was designed and staffed to address the demands of Wiltshire and Swindon residents. It is a safe assessment place, and the time a police officer is in the facility is dependent on the availability of those undertaking the assessment.
There was also a change in the priority given to mental health incidents by the ambulance service, whereby it was made a higher priority. By September 2018, 78% of people being taken to the assessment centre were conveyed by ambulance.
I am extremely proud of the efforts of Wiltshire Police, the OPCC, colleagues in the two councils and CCGs which has meant that since September 2017 custody has only been used as a place of safety for those suffering a mental health crisis.
But there is work still to do - but in other areas. I said at the start that the Bluebell facility was designed for the demands of Wiltshire and Swindon residents. As similar provision has not been made in other policing areas, too often it is being used by patients from out of area. The knock-on effect being that Wiltshire residents are delayed or not admitted.
No-one would refuse assessment for a patient in crisis, but our residents are being disadvantaged by Wiltshire having set up a provision for its demand, and similar provision not being made in adjoining counties.
National figures published recently show a 17% increase in the number of times police have detained someone under the Mental Health Act. Unless action is taken, the facility designed for Wiltshire and Swindon residents' demand will be unavailable from time to time, causing unnecessary delay and stress for those in mental health crisis.