For some years now the issue of mental health treatment has been a vexed one in Kent. The problems take a number of forms, with different bodies responsible for the treatment of adults and children, and continuing difficulties for the police in finding themselves the public service to which people have first recourse when often a medical response would be better.
With this background, I commend my colleague Charlie Elphicke, the MP for Dover, who organised a seminar in Parliament for all those who provide medical services to mental health patients in Kent, along with Matthew Scott, the Police and Crime Commissioner for Kent. This enabled Kent MPs to get below the surface of what has been a big feature in our postbags for many years.
Matthew Scott has focussed on this issue consistently since his election last year. He is right to do so, as 1700 police incidents in a month involve some mental health condition, and in many of these the proper response would not involve law enforcement. Already the system has improved so that no children are having to be taken to police cells as a place of safety after an incident, and last year only 75 adults were dealt with in this way.
There is now a PCC fund for mental health, with £250,000 available for spending on community projects every year. This should increase the number of place of safety, as well as providing local charities with funding for some essential work in this area.
Of course the police aspect is only one small piece of the jigsaw. The various health bodies involved agree on two things. Treatment is better than it has been over recent years, with delays before assessment improved, especially for young people. But we are nowhere near where we need to be and will have to see continuous improvements in the coming years.
There are now two street triage programmes coming in Medway and Thanet, which will ensure that the right professionals are dealing with people causing problems in public. We also now have 174 adult mental health beds in Kent, which is a significant step forward.
The next steps will involve greater co-ordination with GPs, as a greater level of integration early on in someone’s treatment will mean less pressure on the acute care facilities. As I said, this will be a long journey but we are at last heading in the right direction.