Fife’s police chief has spoken out about the thousands of hours officers spend waiting with mental health patients in hospitals.
Chief Superintendent Derek McEwan said frontline officers were often sitting for hours at a time in Victoria Hospital’s accident and emergency department with people in need of urgent medical help.
He said assisting people with mental health issues was placing a pressure on police resources that was not experienced several years ago but officers were not prepared to walk away and leave people in crisis.
He said: “We recognise the challenge we as an organisation face with mental health but also the challenges our partners and communities face in respect of that.
“When I was an officer we did not face the same levels of demand that our officers now do.”
He pointed to the example of a case last week when two officers spent eight hours in hospital with a person in crisis who was too deemed too at-risk to be left alone.
“Two officers sat in the A&E department with someone going through a mental health crisis who was not in custody but, quite simply, there was nowhere else for this individual to be going,” he said.
“Sadly, they were going through such a significant mental health crisis that we were not comfortable leaving them alone in case they walked out of that A&E department.”
Mr McEwan said such cases were placing a “significant demand” on Fife Division and added: “We are talking about thousands and thousands of police officer hours spent sitting at establishments caring for people who, technically, should not be with the police.”
The issue was also highlighted by the Scottish Police Federation when it posted a photograph on social media of four police vehicles parked outside the Kirkcaldy hospital’s A&E unit in December 2018.
Vice-chairman David Hamilton said at the time: “We are the service of last resort. The frustration is that other services take advantage of that, knowing we can’t walk away.
“This is turning police car cages into ambulances.”
Responding to Mr McEwan, Fife Council’s health and social care partnership spokesman David Graham said A&E was also an unsuitable avenue for many of those affected.
He said: “It is questioned whether this is the most appropriate use of police time, sitting for hours on end sometimes in an A&E department.
“The bigger question is whether the A&E department is the best place for folk that are having issues with their mental health to be and how best the service takes that forward.
“It is a very, very complex area but it’s something we are very aware of and the [Fife Health and Social Care] Partnership is working hard to address.”