NHS Highland have defended mental health service provision in Skye and Lochalsh, following comments made last week by Sergeant Bruce Crawford of Portree police.
A spokesman for the health authority queried Sgt Crawford’s claim, made at a Skye and Raasay area committee meeting, that 80 per cent of police time is spent dealing with mental health crises. However, much of the provision is either over-the-phone or available only at New Craigs Psychiatric Hospital near Inverness.
The spokesman said NHS24 provided an assessment and advice service for people with mental health concerns. He added: “Similar to the rest of Highland, there are GPs available who are skilled in assessing for mental illness and there is a 24- hour assessment service based at New Craigs who provide support and advice to GPs and others who can contact the service directly.
“If a GP decides a patient requires admission or more detailed assessment the patient can be transferred to receive that assessment. The duty social work service also has a mental health function out-of-hours.
“In addition, NHS Highland has cover for out-of-hours support to the police through our rural practitioner service based in Mackinnon Memorial Hospital in Broadford. This service assesses patients and supports the police in decisions around whether they are fit to be detained. This service has been in place for over 10 years.”
Alex Jones, manager of Am Fasgadh drop-in centre in Portree, said it did seem to be the case that more police time was now spent taking people to New Craigs, in the absence of patient transport.
He added: “We do hear of a lot of mental health situations that the police are called to attend, as there are no emergency mental health services in the area to cover, so a lot of incidents do fall to the emergency services. In Glasgow, you get emergency response mental health teams, but we have never had that up here.”
“There is never enough support, but we do encourage anyone who is struggling with mental health to talk to their GP or come into Am Fasgadh before it reaches breaking point.”
“There is one mental health officer, employed by Highland Council and based in Broadford, who does attend out-of-hours if someone is to be detained under the Mental Health Act, Mr. Jones said.
He added: “During the day, good-quality support on a regular basis does reduce blue light emergencies. There is never enough support, but we do encourage anyone who is struggling with mental health to talk to their GP or come into Am Fasgadh before it reaches breaking point.”
NHS Highland currently have 5.1 whole-time equivalent community psychiatric nurses based in Broadford and Kyle, whose working hours are Monday-Friday 9 am to 5 pm.
The NHS spokesman added: “If there is a need for rural practitioner intervention at the request of the police, the patient is brought to Mackinnon Memorial Hospital so the necessary tests and assessments can be carried out in an appropriate environment.
The police cells do not have the necessary facilities to allow this to happen on-site. The rural practitioners would attend a domiciliary visit if this was absolutely necessary – e.g. for mental health detainment.”
No GPs provide out-of-hours mental health cover, the spokesman said.
Article by Michael Russell
For more on this issue, you can read the editorial in this week’s Free Press on page 15.