Today the Prime Minister receives a report on the progress of various organisations in improving in dementia care. The Centre for Mental Health has found that at least 15 per cent of police work touches on mental health, including dementia. As the ACPO lead on mental health, I am representing the police on the Prime Minister’s Challenge on Dementia and take great interest in this report.
The report states that the Health and Care system plays a vital role in supporting people with dementia but that ‘it cannot tackle the challenge alone'. I think this can be said of all of the organisations involved in the challenge but it is particularly true of the police.
The most common point of contact that the police have with people with dementia is when they are experiencing a crisis. Police are increasingly being called to deal with people with dementia who are distressed or asked to respond when a person with dementia has gone missing. The police are the service of last resort and we will do all that we can to keep people safe and respond sensitively in that moment of crisis. However, medical staff are extensively trained to deal with patients in distress and the police cannot replicate that level of training.
With this in mind, the key to providing an effective police response to people with dementia is working in strategic partnerships with the health service and other agencies. We can train police officers to recognise the signs and symptoms of dementia but they then need to be able to refer the dementia sufferer to the correct service.
So, if the police are called to a situation where someone is confused and behaving aggressively, they should be able to take them to a place of safety where they can receive the treatment they need rather than to a police cell. When someone with dementia goes missing, the police can work to find them and return them home - but it is valuable for them to be able to refer them to an agency who can check that they are getting the support that they need, which may prevent them from going missing again.
People with dementia may also come into contact with police when they have been a victim, witness or perpetrator of a crime. The police service trains staff on how to interview people with dementia, but there is then a need to share information with other agencies so that relevant support can be offered.
Police forces around the country are already embracing collaborative initiatives with the public, private and third sectors to ensure an appropriate police response to people with dementia.
Leicestershire Police has worked in partnership with Leicestershire County Council, Age UK and local community groups to develop ‘keep safe places’ in libraries, stores, Age UK shops and businesses where people can go if they are feeling upset, confused or worried while out in town centres. Staff can offer basic support, including a place to sit down and contact friends or relatives if necessary - or the emergency services if required.
Thames Valley Police have linked up with the Neighbourhood and Home Watch Network to pilot a Neighbourhood Return scheme. Forty-one per cent of people with dementia get lost at some point and this increases the chance of early admittance into care homes. The pilot is recruiting volunteers who will receive a message when a person with dementia goes missing and will go out and look for them.
For me, one of the key benefits of being a part of the Prime Minister’s Challenge on Dementia is the opportunity for us to build those working relationships with other organisations. These relationships will enable us to divert dementia sufferers to appropriate services before they reach a moment of crisis. Or when they do, ensure that police contact is a catalyst for further assessment of their needs and, if necessary, treatment or support to prevent them reaching crisis point again.