Devon and Cornwall Police have been invited to be one of four pilot force areas in England to run a 'street triage' mental health project in 2013/14.

The project will see clinical mental health staff accompany police to emergency responses, with the clinical staff  on hand to help officers decide on the best option for individuals in crisis.

They can offer professional advice on the spot, access health information systems, and help to liaise with other care services to identify the right kind of support required.

Chief Constable Shaun Sawyer said: “This force is committed to working with our partners in health and social services to ensure individuals receive the right care and support before they reach crisis point and when they come into contact with police.

“This pilot is really welcome news that will enable us to continue to develop processes and learn how our officers and staff can work more closely with our health colleagues to ensure those who are identified as having mental health problems get the support they need. Not only is this the morally right thing to do, it will help us to make better use of the limited public resources we have to keep our communities safe.”

The announcement follows the publication of a HMIC report last week, about the use of police cells for people with identified mental health issues which called for health, mental and social services to ensure they put resources in place to receive people detained under section 136 of the Mental Health Act in a health based setting and to assess them quickly.

Chief Constable Sawyer said: “Police cells are clearly not a place for individuals with complex mental health issues who need support from medically trained professionals, not police officers.

“We must make better use of medical expertise to protect and give a better service to those vulnerable people.”

In the last year another pilot scheme has been established in Cornwall which has seen three psychiatric nurses seconded to the police from the NHS. The £500,000 project has been aimed at dealing with those coming into custody with mental health needs, but also reaching out to communities through neighbourhood policing teams who can refer people they have concerns about people in our society.

Chief Constable Sawyer added: “Clearly it is too early to outline how this money will be used specifically and the pilot will be subject to consultation with partners. We will of course be closely monitoring how this impacts on police resources and how it can help to reduce reoffending.

“The money to run this pilot is gratefully received and we will use it to collect some valuable information around closer working with our health partners to provide a better and more effective service to those vulnerable people who come into contact with us.

“I’m working closely with Tony Hogg, Devon and Cornwall Police and Crime Commissioner, and health partners to address a number of issues involving mental health. Mr Hogg currently serves on the region’s Health and Well-being Boards and so is ideally placed to help with wider partnership working.”

Police and Crime Commissioner Tony Hogg said: “It is very timely after last week’s report which concluded, quite rightly, that too many people with mental illnesses are being detained in police cells for their own safety because health service options aren’t available. That it not desirable for the people concerned, and it also uses considerable police resources. It places a huge responsibility on individual police officers who often have to make extremely difficult decisions. These would be much better left to medical professionals.

“I am sincerely hoping that this pilot will lead to a longer term easing of this pressure, and with correct resourcing enable the provision of the correct emergency services and medical experience necessary.”