Scheme putting police in mental health teams must end, says NHS England

<span>Photograph: Kirsty O’Connor/PA</span>
Photograph: Kirsty O’Connor/PA

A controversial mental health monitoring system, which embedded police officers in clinical teams, must no longer be used in mental health services, NHS England has said.

In a letter seen by the Guardian, NHS England’s national clinical director for mental health, Prof Tim Kendall, gave the instruction about the serenity integrated mentoring (SIM) scheme and similar models.

The scheme, which began expanding across the UK six years ago, puts police into health teams to help manage patients who repeatedly call emergency services.

Critics say the system involves instructing A&E, ambulance, mental health services and police not to respond to calls from these people in case it “positively reinforce[s]” high-risk behaviour.

Medical bodies and campaigners including the Centre for Mental Health and Rethink Mental Illness have said there are concerns that people experiencing acute distress, who are at high risk of self-harm, have not been receiving the medical help they need.

Lucy Schonegevel, the associate director for policy and practice at Rethink Mental Illness, said: “Serious concerns have been raised highlighting that this may result in the potential withholding of life-saving treatment to people in crisis and that the model has not been sufficiently evaluated.”

NHS England has worked with the StopSIM coalition, a group campaigning to halt the use of SIM in the NHS, to produce a report on the effects of the system.

NHS England said it had no plans to publish the report, but StopSIM called for it to be published “in full immediately”.

The coalition said: “Over the past 15 months, we have worked with NHS England, as well as a range of other stakeholders, to produce a rigorous and detailed policy that supports many of the concerns highlighted by service users and activists during the StopSIM campaign.”

Andy Bell, the interim chief executive for the Centre for Mental Health, said: “I am deeply disappointed that the full report that was co-produced with the StopSIM coalition will not be published; we strongly call on NHS England to publish that document honouring the co-production that went into it.”

StopSIM has concerns that it is now down to the individual trusts and integrated care boards to end the use of SIM or other similar practices.

Bell said: “The important thing in many ways is that SIM and everything similar is no longer part of mental health practice – it’s crucial that in every part of the country that support for all people in acute distress is safe, compassionate and effective.”

Kendall said in his letter: “NHS England will continue to review the key principles for ensuring people in crisis get the right support at the right time as we agree a framework for joint working between police and mental health services over coming months.”

He added: “Ongoing engagement with people with lived experience will be critical as we do this work, alongside government and policing partners.”