PFNI calls for action plan to deal with ‘silent crisis’
The Police Federation for Northern Ireland (PFNI) says normal police services are being badly disrupted because of the time that is devoted to helping people with mental health issues.
The PFNI was responding to a report by the Northern Ireland Audit Office which said that the number of cases dealt with by officers had more than doubled to more than 20,000 a-year.
PFNI Chair, Mark Lindsay, said: “Officers are plugging gaps in the health care system and it is proving an intolerable burden. When officers are removed from their normal duties to help people presenting with mental health issues, they are unable to perform their normal duties.
“That means that significant numbers of officers are often unavailable. This, in turn, places inordinate pressure on their colleagues. Delivering a service that the public has a right to expect is adversely impacted.
“We simply don’t have the numbers to do all that is required. We are already under-strength and being the service of last resort – the ‘safety net’ for unwell and vulnerable individuals - is taking a heavy toll.
“This is a situation that cannot continue. Our hope is that this report by the Northern Ireland Audit Office sparks a long overdue debate on mental health provision, the role of appropriately qualified health care professionals, financial resources and the unrealistic expectations that are placed on officers.
“Steps are being taken to improve the services delivered by the PSNI, but there is a need to broaden the discussion to involve other public sector providers and, of course, the Government Departments responsible for Health and Justice. There has to be a robust Action Plan that seriously addresses this growing challenge.
“The PFNI has raised this issue on numerous occasions and is ready and willing to engage with others to find better ways of dealing with what many of us feel is a silent crisis.”