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NHS England: Scheme That Embeds Police Within Mental Health Teams Must End

Criticism of the SIM-based monitoring system has raised fears that high-risk people might not be receiving the care they need. My Mind News investigates.

What is the issue?

A controversial mental health monitoring system in use in the United Kingdom, which embeds police officers within clinical teams, must no longer be used in mental health services, according to NHS England.

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

The scheme began expanding across the UK six years ago, putting police into health teams to help manage patients who repeatedly call emergency services. My Mind News reported on one such scheme back in January this year.

Critics say the system instructs Accident & Emergency, ambulance, mental health services, and police staff not to respond to calls from these people in case it “positively reinforces” high-risk behavior.

Cause for concern

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

Speaking to the Guardian on this exact point, 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.”


Collaborative approach

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

Speaking about its collaboration with NHS England, a spokesperson for the StopSIM coalition told the Guardian,

“Over the past 15 months, we have worked with NHS England and 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.”

StopSIM is concerned that it is now down to the individual trusts and integrated care boards to end using SIM or other similar practices.

Regarding the decision not to publish the report in full, 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.”


Bell went on to say that the important thing in many ways is that SIM and everything similar is no longer part of mental health practice and that it’s crucial that in every part of the country that support for all people in acute distress is safe, compassionate, and effective.


How has NHS England responded?

In a letter seen by journalists working for the Guardian, NHS England’s Professor Kendall said that NHS England will continue to review the fundamental principles for ensuring people in crisis get the proper support at the right time as it agrees on a framework for joint working between police and mental health services over coming months.

He added that ongoing engagement with people with lived experience will be critical as it carried out this work alongside government and policing partners.

A deadlock has ensued

When rolled out six years ago, the scheme to combine police with mental health teams was seen as a positive step forward in dealing with the rise in societal mental health issues. However, according to some parties, the scheme has not been executed properly, and certain groups of people might now be worse off as a result.

It will be interesting to see whether the NHS will bow done to pressure and reveal its report in full. Until then, it might just be one step back for the scheme which initially promised so much.


What are your thoughts on the scheme covered by this article? Let us know in the comments.

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