Police Authority questions Scottish government account of mental health staffing
The Scottish government has been pressed over its handling of mental health services after the Scottish Police Authority warned that the provision of dedicated mental health professionals within police custody settings across Scotland was “inconsistent”.
Under Action 15 of the Mental Health Strategy 2017-2027, the Scottish government committed to ensure access to a mental health professional in every police custody suite within five years.
It announced last month that 35.6 WTE mental health workers had been recruited for custody suites under the action plan.
However, in response to a written question from Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton asking for the total number of mental health professionals in police station custody suites, Justice Secretary Keith Brown claimed that the government “does not hold data on the mental health workforce in police custody suites”. Police Scotland currently have 69 police station custody suites.
It has now emerged that papers prepared for the Scottish Police Authority’s meeting on 26 May described the provision of dedicated mental health professionals within police custody settings across Scotland as “inconsistent”.
Commenting on the revelation, Mr Cole-Hamilton said: “A fortnight ago, the Scottish government were keen to declare mission accomplished on their mental health recruitment programme but the truth is anything but.
“First Scottish Liberal Democrats revealed that staff based in a host of other settings were being included in order to inflate the total recruitment figures. Then the Justice Secretary claimed that his government has no idea how many mental staff there are working alongside the police. No wonder police bosses are now warning that the plan is inconsistent.
“Mental health staff in custody suites can provide a huge benefit. The lack of support elsewhere leaves the police picking up the pieces of the mental health crisis.
“Officers spend whole shifts accompanying people in distress to A&E. That’s a really difficult shift for someone who is not a mental health specialist so having specialists on hand is important both for keeping the public safe but also for allowing frontline officers to get back on the beat.
“It’s been clear for several years now that the Scottish government were not going to meet this key staffing target, but rather than redouble their efforts, they have chosen to cheat and include staff recruited for other settings and claim that this means they have met their target.
“The Scottish government have had years to get on top of this issue. These critical services are under huge pressure. It is time for a major recruitment drive.”