Mental health time or tackling crime?
Blackpool's thin blue line is being stretched to the limit dealing with mental health issues, the police union has claimed.
Five police cars lined up outside accident and emergency on Monday afternoon – and the Police Federation says the officers were all dealing with non-criminal matters.
The Federation published the image of three police cars and two vans parked outside the hospital.
And Rachel Baines, the chair of the Lancashire Federation, is concerned at the number of officers taken away from front line duty to deal with social and mental health issues.
She said: “This picture was taken at tea time on a normal Monday. It isn’t 2am on a Sunday morning.
“But this is more and more what we are dealing with.
“We have made enquiries as to why these officers were at the hospital and it appears they were mostly dealing with issues such as missing persons and mental health issues.
“While these are important, it does demonstrate the difficulties we are facing on a daily basis.”
Figures released by the Police Federation last week showed there to be one police officer on duty at night for every 10,000 UK residents.
And the organisation is concerned how many of Blackpool’s resources were in one place.
Ms Baines said: “You have police so stretched.
“This potentially represents a significant proportion of officers available in Blackpool.
“While they are at the hospital carrying out these duties they are not doing what the public expects them to be doing and fighting crime.”
Figures provided to The Gazette by Lancashire Police show just 20 per cent of incidents between April and September 2016 were classed as ‘crimes’.
The highest proportion, 33 per cent, fell into the category of ‘public safety and welfare’.
The Police Federation is concerned officers are being put into situations for which they are not adequately trained.
Rachel Baines said: “This is a major issue. More and more of our time and resources are being spent dealing with issues which would have, in the past, been the remit of other agencies.
“As funding for services has been cut the pressure on police has increased.
“We are not trained mental health practitioners.
“Police officers are really not the best people to be handling these situations.
“They will always do their best.”
Lancashire Police was made aware of the image but was unable to say why the officers had been at Victoria Hospital at the same time.
But senior officers in Blackpool have raised concerns over the amount of resources being devoted to dealing with social and welfare issues.
It’s a concern shared by charities working with vulnerable people in the resort, including the Ashley Foundation, which provides specialist care for the homeless.
The foundation supports 100 people every night across its three hostels and 40 move-on flats in Blackpool.
Three out of every four of its residents suffer mental health problems including one in four who self-harm. A recent survey of hostel residents found 22 per cent had been taken to A&E or been admitted to hospital in the last six months.
Support officer Sue Tweedle said: “The issue is when people, who are isolated and vulnerable, living on their own but with serious mental health problems, will call the emergency services when they are in a situation that is very much an ‘emergency’ to them.”
Blackpool South MP Gordon Marsden said the image highlighted concerns.
He said: “Firstly I would wonder whether this shows an increasing trend for Accident and Emergency being used for purposes other than intended.
“But it also begs the question whether preventative measures are not there as a result of funding cuts.
“I would hope that if this is to become the norm there would be protocols put in place between police and the hospital trust to minimise the amount of officers’ time spent at the hospital.”
Blackpool’s Conservative group leader Tony Williams called on services to develop closer working to tackle the issue.
He said: “It is a concern to me that police are being taken away from patrolling the streets of Blackpool.
“But why are there so few officers when budgets have not been cut?
“I don’t want to blame police or social services or any other groups.
“But they need to find a way of working together to better deal with these issues.”