Norfolk Police are now dealing with an extra 10,000 mental health incidents each year compared with 2014, a Freedom of Information request has revealed. And those which come through the emergency 999 number have now passed 6,000 every year.
Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust has said they are seeing "more and more people in crisis", and that mental health is a "system-wide issue".. Police officers have said it is one of the "big drains on resources" and suggested refusing to attend mental health calls could be the "only way" to prompt urgent action from health bosses.
Andy Symonds, chairman of the Norfolk Police Federation, said: "The system is broken". "We are filling the gap in mental health services that do not really exist." At the start of the year a Freedom of Information request revealed people in Norfolk had been detained in police stations for more than 40 hours awaiting assessment or transfer to hospital.
Mr Symonds said officers, who are not medically trained, will usually opt to detain someone under a section 136 place of safety order to avoid an incident occurring. but it requires at least two police officers, and can make the person in crisis "feel they are under arrest". "We can sit there for hours on end waiting for mental health services," he said. "It can be whole shifts sometimes for one incident.
"It is not fair for the person. It is a small area we take them to and we end up sitting on top of each other. They feel they are under arrest and like they are in a cell. It is not a good place to be. "We get a very small amount of training but it is not enough for people experiencing a mental health episode." A dedicated officer has now been assigned to Hellesdon Hospital to help deal with the increase in call-outs to the mental health facility. But Mr Symonds said section 136 jobs have become a "huge drain on resources".
"All that time the officers are not out there dealing with burglaries or serious violence," he said. "They are in a hospital trying their best to look after someone going through a mental health episode. "It is a real nightmare. "We are the service of first resort and people think police will deal with it. It has become our job when you have got services who have retreated through austerity - the police end up dealing with it.