The Right Tools for The Wrong Job

On Sunday just gone I was very honoured (but slightly nervous) to know that the Sunday Express were going to be basing an article on policing and mental health from my blogs.

The full article can be read here

If it were down to me I would not have chosen the words “Mental health victims” for the title as I think victims is entirely the wrong word but, that aside, the article goes on to list three things I would put to the Prime Minister, if I had the chance, to improve mental health care from a policing perspective.

A minor twitter storm followed as a number of readers picked up on and objected to my request for “additional” police powers.

In their view, the police should have nothing to do with a medical emergency and my request was “typical” of the police to seek an easy way out.

On one aspect of this I am entirely in agreement – the police SHOULD have NOTHING to do with a medical emergency.

I have said before that police have become a first resort for dealing with mental health issues when in reality this is plugging gaps in health provision.

What I am asking for in relation to police powers is for them to be modified to fill a great hole which currently exists.

This is beautifully outlined in @mentalhealthcop’s blog, “Debating Police Powers” which was written in response to the article.

In summary there is a ridiculous situation in existence where police can take action to detain someone who is experiencing mental health crisis in public to a place of safety but they cannot do so for someone who is experiencing the same crisis in private. Even if they are called to it.

If police are called to a crisis in private they have the power to force entry to the property but no power to actually do anything once they are inside.

This is ridiculous.

It’s not just me who feels like this. I know that @mentalhealthcop is in agreement but so is the president of the Superintendent’s Association, Chief Superintendent Irene Curtis who has recently said this.

@mentalhealthcop summed it up in a subsequent tweet – “the police are responsible but powerless.”

The fact that I am asking for this legislation to be altered does not mean that I agree that police should be dealing with mental health crises.

To the contrary, the very first thing on my wish list to Mr Cameron was that resources are pumped into proper mental health services so that they can deal with this kind of situation entirely by themselves.

Money isn’t the only problem though. I believe that it would require a massive culture change within social workers as it is not really within their current psyche to use coercive force when the situation requires it.

Talking should always be the first option but previous blogs from myself have covered the point that there can come a time when the talking has to stop – especially if the situation becomes life threatening.

The purpose of this blog is to point out that my ideal position would be a world where the police had zero involvement in mental health crises.

I think we can all agree, however, that this is a most unlikely outcome.

The next position would be a situation where mental health teams were properly equipped, trained and resourced to manage a crisis themselves. Whether that be a suicidal person on a bridge or in their home.
This also seems unlikely.

In the absence of this I would be advocating mixed agency teams who were dedicated to this role. Medics, AMHPs, doctors and police who would act as a rapid intervention response team. This is also a long way off.

In the meantime we have what we have. A situation where it can take hours to assemble a team and get the necessary warrant to deal with a mental health crisis in a private place.

This is good for no-one and it is for that reason and that reason alone that I am asking for legislation to be altered to assist the police.

The whole problem needs to be addressed strategically by Chiefs, PCC’s and NHS commissioning bodies. It needs to be discussed in government and a proper, suitable, permanent and effective solution needs to be found.

This will take time and whilst this goes on the crises will continue.

At the moment there is only one agency who is able to get there quickly enough. What I am asking for is the tools to do the best job we can when we get there.


8 responses to “The Right Tools for The Wrong Job”

  1. Laura Dickens says :

    Hi Nathan,

    I work in a Students’ Union who has just submitted a paper surrounding this very issue to the Welsh Assembly. Our first point of call we are told to do is to phone the police to do a welfare check on persons in crisis or mental distress, and since we had our mental health crisis ward close, the police are being called in more and more. We are finding that people are being detained in police cells overnight and if a crisis bed is needed, they are taken 2 hours down the road to Carmarthen Hospital. A lot of pressure is being put on the community, such as the University but also third sector under-resourced charities as well as the police force, who haven’t (as far as we are aware) received specific training on this.

    Please let me know how your campaigning goes, It would be something I’d really like to support you on and would love to talk to you more about.
    My email is

  2. jonsharvey says :

    Impressive points as always Nathan. You are absolutely correct to highlight this issue and it needs further debate – and probably, ultimately, a legislative resolution. As well as more resources being put into Mental Health. But of course, as we now have GPs in charge of NHS commissioning, who understand their patients so well and the problems they present, then we can expect to see a shift of such resources… can we not?

  3. pulchritudynous says :

    I have nominated you for the Reality Blog Award. Maybe more people will find your blog and the insight you share. Thank you for your posts!! You can check it out at

  4. ALICIA MORRIS says :
    • nathanconstable says :

      Wow Katie – what an amazing bit of feedback. Thank you so much for sharing.

      Throughout my blogs you will see constant reference and links to the blogs of my good friend and colleague @mentalhealthcop.

      In Star Wars terms – he is Yoda and I am just the Padawan. His blogs are likely to contain a lot of useful information and both he and I are usually happy to discuss further.

      He has access to more data than I do.

      But please – if you use Twitter then follow us both and ask anything you like.

      Good luck with your studies


      • nathanconstable says :

        For some reason- Katy’s response is showing blank so here it is:

        Dear Nathan I am a new follower of your blog (via the Sunday Express article) I am presently on an access course studying social sciences, with an offer to study BSc Social Work at Huddersfield University this September. I have a background in psychiatric nursing ( and general) All of your blogs are very interesting to me, and also very exciting: I have to write a dissertation to complete the access course, my title ” The Injustice of Jailing Our Mentally Ill” As part of my research i was intending to visit Wakefield Prison (I know Prison Officers working there) to interview prisoners, officers and mental health nurses. I also was researching arrest figures to see if mental health was taken into account ( I have a friend who is a detective who was going to help) All of a sudden all of my research has been blocked! My contacts have contacted me to say that access has been denied to the prison, ( this decision was made external to the prison) and my police friend has told me that he is now unable to help. (I was told that I could contact a worker at Wakefield prison, but could not mention any names, nor contact them at the prison as every call is recorded. I was intending on abandoning my dissertation but now have been stimulated by your blog to carry on ! Thankyou !!! Do you have any websites or contacts that I would be able to utilise to finish my work ?????? Thanks very much Katy

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