SENIOR staff at North Wales’ health board say the authority is gearing up to take on more mental health call-outs, to allow police officers to scale back their response.
Last week a new framework was announced, the National Partnership Agreement, which will see police in England and Wales reduce the number of mental health callouts they attend.
To free up officers, police will only respond to a threat to life or crime being committed rather than welfare checks.
Earlier this year the ‘111 press two’ a dedicated mental health service in Wales was launched, the progress of which was discussed at this weeks’ Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board (BCUHB) meeting.
In response to questions from board members about last week’s National Partnership Agreement announcement, Teresa Owen, executive director responsible for BCUHB’s Mental Health and Learning Disabilities said talks with the police have already begun with another meeting scheduled for early August.
She added that the ‘111 press two’ service is already reducing the number of patients presenting at emergency departments during a mental health crisis.
“We’re working multi-agency on crisis regional work”, she said.
“The new approach in England is called ‘Right Care, Right Person’ and that applies to England and Wales.
“From our perspective we’ve already started the conversation through our regional crisis care group but it links nicely with this programme of work.
“It’s also about working together differently.”
Ms Owen added: “We’re supportive of anything that works in that early intervention prevention space and that’s what we’re seeing.
“There’s an opportunity for us as a board to look again at all our programmes and see what works but I think we’re going to need different approaches for different people but it’ll be getting the blend right going forward.”
Board member Rhian Watcyn Jones said: “It’s good that we’re ahead of the curve on that but we may in the future need to think about expanding the service or providing similar provision in a slightly different way.”
The health board’s interim chief executive Carol Shillabeer added: “In a previous life I was involved with the police and crime commissioner in South Wales.
“As a result of the pressure the police were feeling that they were being the first responders, not necessarily to mental health situations, but certainly emotional distress which is a very broad spectrum, they felt ill-equipped to be able to respond.
“It’s really good to see this is now national but in particular that it’s 24/7 in North Wales because it is at those times of night that people will need this support.”
Ms Shillabeer was assured that plenty of preparation and support was being given to staff.
Questions were also asked about whether there was any data to show a reduction in people presenting to emergency departments while in a mental health crisis since the new service was launched.
Interim health board chair Dyfed Edwards said the service needs time to grow and develop because of demand.
He called for time to be given to the service rather than putting an early emphasis on data before drawing any conclusions about its effectiveness.