Eight years ago this month, a good friend of mine with a long-term mental health condition hit a crisis and asked to be admitted to a secure hospital overnight. He was refused and told his community worker would visit the next day. In the early hours of the morning, he hanged himself.
When someone is going through a mental health crisis, they can be both extremely vulnerable and sometimes a danger to themselves or others. In such emergency situations, urgent responses from services are critical – and a typical case can include the contributions of doctors, paramedics, police officers and social workers. When the right systems are in place, these professionals intervene quickly to help and support people, and get troubled individuals the help they need to get some control back over their situations.
This year, there has been a lot in the news about these cases, and unfortunately, much of this coverage has been about what can go wrong. Too many mentally ill people find themselves in police custody - this is not illegal, the Mental Health Act allows for it - but for vulnerable people who have committed no crime, it can mean the continuation of a personal nightmare.
The Department of Health, in full partnership with the Home Office, is responding to this situation. I have chaired a number of highly positive meetings with representatives from all the organisations that have an interest in this issue, including the LGA and the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, to try to get an agreement between all parties about what needs to happen in these situations. I believe we are getting close to that agreement now and I hope to be able to say more about this, and the exact form it will take, in the near future. But I can say now that the result will be a multi-agency commitment to work together to improve outcomes for people experiencing a mental health crisis.
Ultimately, this all comes down to the quality of local commissioning. A good test for both health and social care commissioners is to ask this question: if it was a member of your family or a close friend in crisis, would you be confident that your local services would keep them safe, protect their dignity and prioritise their recovery? That has to be the goal in every community.
Jon Rouse, director general, social care, local government and care partnerships, Department of Health