Agreement to support mental health care and free up police time

The NHS, police and government commit to a new approach to ensure those requiring urgent mental health support receive timely care from the most appropriate agency

Patients experiencing a mental health crisis will be treated by the most appropriate agency, helping free up police time and ensuring care is provided by someone with the most relevant skills and experience, as a new national agreement is signed between health and policing partners.

Local health partners and police forces in England will work together on joint plans to implement the new approach, working towards ending the inappropriate involvement of police where no crime is being committed or there is no threat to safety. Where police officers do take a person in a mental health crisis to a health setting under the Mental Health Act, this agreement emphasises the need for local partners to work towards handovers happening within one hour. These plans and timelines for implementation will reflect the needs of local communities, as well as the capacity of local police and mental health services, and any additional resources required.

The new National Partnership Agreement outlines the principles that local areas are encouraged to adopt to implement Right Care, Right Person (RCRP), which is already showing success. Created by Humberside Police and the NHS in 2019, it is now much easier for staff in police control rooms to identify the right agency to deploy at the outset when responding to 999 calls about individuals experiencing a mental health crisis.

Under new local plans, when the threshold for police involvement is not met, partners will agree the best health-based approach; for instance in Humberside, a new dedicated response vehicle with mental health staff on board has been attending calls and providing support, alongside other community-based mental health services.

As well as patients receiving more appropriate care, Humberside Police believe it has saved 1,441 officer hours on average every single month – and a total of 46,114 officer hours have been saved between May 2020 and December 2022. If all forces in England realised time savings similar to those reported by Humberside police, this could save up to 1 million hours of police officer time per year, freeing up their time to focus on fighting crime and protecting communities.

Policing Minister Chris Philp said:

"We have listened to the concerns raised by police leaders about the pressures that mental health issues are placing on policing which takes officers’ time away from preventing and investigating crime.

"This landmark agreement will see those in a mental health crisis receiving the most appropriate treatment in the right environment by healthcare professionals and free up considerable amounts of police time to focus on keeping our communities safe."

Minister for Mental Health Maria Caulfield said:

"Anyone going through something as awful as a mental health crisis deserves to know they’ll receive the best possible emergency response. It’s vital the right people who are trained and skilled to deal with the situation are on the scene to assist.

"That’s why this national agreement is so important. It will ensure the most appropriate health care is provided as quickly as possible.

"We’re going further and faster to transform our mental health services, with £2.3 billion extra funding a year by March 2024 so two million more people can get the support they need – and £150 million to build new and improved mental health urgent and emergency care services."

Committing to the RCRP approach to mental health, the new National Partnership Agreement has been signed by the Home Office, Department of Health and Social Care, National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), NHS England, the College of Policing and The Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APCC).

People with mental health issues are an important part of the communities the police are here to serve and protect. However, the police are often not the most appropriate agency to respond to mental health incidents, which can result in greater distress for people with mental health needs and prevents police officers from carrying out their other duties. They will continue to respond to cases where there’s a need to investigate a crime, or to protect people from an immediate risk of serious harm.

NPCC lead for policing and mental health, Deputy Chief Constable Rachel Bacon, said:

"Right Care, Right Person principles are designed to make sure that our communities receive support from professionals with the appropriate skills and expertise to meet their needs. Currently many health incidents which police attend do not involve a risk to life or a crime being committed and in some cases, police attendance may even have a negative impact on an individual who is in need of specialist help.

"The signing of the National Partnership Agreement is testament to our relationships with healthcare partners who are integral to the success of Right Care Right Person and we thank them for their support."

The government is investing an additional £2.3 billion annually into mental health services in England by 2024. A significant proportion of that is for community mental health services for people with serious mental illness – roughly £1 billion.

A range of services are available for people experiencing mental health crisis. For example, liaison services are working in Emergency Departments providing help for people in a mental health crisis.

Work is under way to provide 24/7 mental health crisis phone lines, and the NHS Long Term Plan is delivering the fastest expansion of mental health services in its history, so that two million more people will be able to get the mental health support they need.

The mental health workforce is growing. In December 2022, we saw almost 9,000 more mental health staff working than the previous year. The NHS Long Term Workforce plan sets out ambitions to grow the mental health workforce further.

Every area of the country is now investing in alternatives to A&E and hospital for mental health crisis, such as crisis cafes, safe havens, and crisis houses, supported by £60m investment by the end of 2023/24. £150 million will be used to build mental health urgent and emergency care infrastructure, including up to 90 specialised mental health ambulances across the country.

NHS England’s National Mental Health Director, Claire Murdoch, said:

"It is vital that people experiencing a mental health crisis are given appropriate support and the NHS is committed to working with local police forces and their partners to ensure the right professional responds.

"Health services and police forces should use this agreement to develop protocols that best meet the needs of their local population, including seeking the views of patients, alongside assessing the additional resources they will need to deliver this.

"If you or someone you know is struggling with your mental health, the NHS has crisis helplines available 24/7, so please come forward."

The NPCC and College of Policing have developed a national toolkit to support local implementation across England, including decision-making in relation to the threshold for police response, partnership working and training requirements.

APCC Mental Health lead, Police and Crime Commissioner Lisa Townsend, said:

"The National Partnership Agreement represents a vital first step in ensuring vulnerable people receive the right care from the right person.

"My PCC colleagues and I welcome the new agreement and are committed to working closely with chief constables and local partners to get this approach right and ensure it delivers."

Chief Constable Andy Marsh, CEO at the College of Policing, said:

"The public want police catching criminals and protecting them from harm. Attending mental health calls is not always appropriate and these changes will strike a better balance so that the public receives the service they want.

"Police are not trained mental health professionals and the new toolkit will triage incoming calls to police so that the public receives the best response. The toolkit is unique in policing and will offer support and guidance to call handlers when managing mental health, concerns for welfare and missing persons.

"This is a change for policing across England and Wales and the College of Policing will be supporting forces as they focus their efforts on keeping their neighbourhoods safe."

NHS England is also co-producing guidance with multi-agency professionals and people with lived experience of mental health problems, on how to strengthen the interface between multi-agency partners within the urgent mental health pathway.

Home Office
Department of Health and Social Care
NHS England
College of Policing
Maria Caulfield MP
The Rt Hon Chris Philp MP