Suffolk PCC candidates discuss mental health call-outs

The issue of calling police to deal with people with mental health problems if there is no risk to life has been discussed in a police and crime commissioner (PCC) debate.

All candidates running to become the Suffolk PCC took part in a BBC Politics East special.

Labour candidate Sir Robin Wales said mental health services should pay police overtime if they have to be called to non-life-threatening cases.

The Conservative candidate Tim Passmore, the current PCC, said dealing with mental health patients was the "job of the health service".

The Lib Dem candidate James Sandbach said mental health services needed to be "fixed", while the Green candidate Rachel Smith-Lyte said it was a major concern.

In 2023, Suffolk Police announced it was to start to scale back officers' attendance at mental health calls but insisted keeping people safe was a priority.

This followed a national policing decision that officers in England would no longer respond to concerns about mental health if there was no risk to life or a crime being committed.

The government wants to save millions of hours of police time every year.

Senior officers say forces have "lost their way" by dealing with less serious mental health problems, but charities said they were "deeply worried" at what could be a "dangerous" change.

Mr Passmore, who has been the Suffolk Police and Crime Commissioner since he was first elected in November 2012, said this was the right decision and police would always attend cases where people were "in danger".

"Police officers are not qualified mental health practitioners. That is the job of the health service," he said.

Labour candidate Sir Robin, who has served as elected mayor for the London Borough of Newham, said the decision on mental health was the right one.

He said if services were "in such a bad way" they needed police support, it "must pay police overtime".

Lib Dem candidate Mr Sandbach said there were serious issues with the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust, which oversees mental health provision.

"The solution is to fix the mental health system, which is absolutely disgraceful. This is a national scandal," he said.

The Green candidate Ms Smith-Lyte said the issue was "hugely" concerning.

"My heart goes out to anyone who has been affected by this. We have had so many decades of cuts to the front-line services. We are seeing the effect of the cuts come home to roost," she said.

Commenting on the office of the PCC, Mr Sandbach said he thought it was "a complete waste of money".

"I am running to abolish the office. The resources going to the running of the office should be redirected to front-line policing," he said.

Ms Smith-Lyte said: "The role of the PCC has more of an oversight and overview than the chief constable. It's an important role, holding the police to account.

"And it makes sure scrutiny is carried out and people are getting the best value for money."

Mr Passmore said PCCs have a lower budget than the previous council oversight of police.

"It's no use just saying, 'get rid of it', you then have to arrange the governance of the police," he said.

Sir Robin said: "I wouldn't abolish it. I have published what I'll do and if I don't deliver then I'll resign.

"What we need to do is think about how we join up the powers of the council with the powers the police have."

The Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust said it did not want to comment during the election period.

Politics East is broadcast on Sunday, 21 April at 14:15 BST on BBC One and is available after broadcast on the BBC iPlayer.

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