An ominous deadline for London's health workers
Someone's got to come up with a plan, and fast
Morning — we hope you enjoyed the bank holiday weekend as much as the Spy.
To be truthful, today’s big story is a bit unnerving. It centres around an abrupt decision from the Met Police to stop responding to mental health emergencies, starting in three months’ time. Some think London’s ambulance workers, paramedics and NHS staff won’t be ready by then, but others point to the success of a similar move by police up north. That’s after your briefing below.
Plus: Queen Bey is in town, while opponents are lining up to take on Jeremy Corbyn in Islington.
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What we’ve spied
🟠 A busy week in London for eco-activists Just Stop Oil, who’ve been disrupting the capital for over a month with slow marches. The past seven days have been among the most attention-grabbing yet, with incidents like:
A police officer dragging a protestor along a west London road during a demo on Wednesday
Simultaneous marches across four major bridges — Waterloo, Tower Bridge, London Bridge and Blackfriars — on Tuesday
A confrontation with a self-described ‘London liberal’ on Holloway Road in Islington on Monday
Pitch invading the Premiership rugby final at Twickenham on Saturday
Throwing orange powder at a garden at the Chelsea Flower Show on Thursday
There’s not really a clear end in sight to the protests — the group said it “won’t stop until our genocidal government ends new oil and gas” when it launched its campaign in London at the end of April. One of its biggest backers, Ecotricity founder Dale Vince, said yesterday he’s matching any public donations to the group. Maybe the Met need a similar cash drive — it has said the protests are currently costing the force £3.5m a month to police.
💃 Beyoncé has arrived in Tottenham. The London leg of her Rennaissance World Tour kicked off at Spurs stadium on Monday to rave reviews. An awkward story from the Guardian though — the paper has reported homeless families have been forced to leave their temporary accommodation in north London hotels to make way for fans after Enfield council failed to extend their bookings. It’s not the first London council to fall foul of Queen Bey — Haringey’s been peeved off by her booking an extra fifth show on June 4, in breach of licence conditions. And one last bit of grumbling — footage shows local commuters getting angry as they’re turned away from Seven Sisters station as part of the concert’s crowd control.
💨 We’re hearing a lot from Sadiq Khan lately, as he gears up for the London mayoral election next year. Aside from another interview with a national paper to discuss his new book, the mayor hopped on a phone-in session with BBC London on Wednesday. No prizes for guessing that the expansion of the capital’s ultra-low emissions zone came up repeatedly, though Khan also answered questions about policing and housing. There’s been two big developments on ULEZ in the past week: first, the Conservative borough councils taking Khan to court over the expansion have now been granted more legal grounds in their challenge by the High Court. Meanwhile, since Friday Khan’s been taking friendly fire from a collection of Labour MPs and council leaders, who’ve sent him letters urging him to rethink parts of the plans.
🤳 An update on Mizzy, the TikToker from Hackney who blew up last week for his extreme prank videos. Just two days after he was fined £365 by a judge and issued with a criminal behaviour order for his home invasion video, Mizzy was arrested again. Footage appears to show him on the roof of an Iceland in south London with a plainclothes officer. He was then charged with violating his court order, which had banned him from posting videos on social media without people’s consent, from trespassing on private property and from visiting Westfield shopping centre in Stratford. Mizzy’s now been bailed ahead of a trial in July. For more on Mizzy, check out last week’s Spy, where we chronicled his rapid rise to notoriety.
🏠 London homeowners face a £1.4bn mortgage “ticking timebomb” over the next three years, new research warns. Think tank the Resolution Foundation says that only about a third of the impact of rising interest rates has been felt by mortgage holders in the capital so far, with many fixed rate deals still yet to expire. It estimates total annual mortgage repayments will rise by about £900bn in the next year, and by £1.4bn by 2026, with “poorer and younger mortgagors” experiencing the biggest squeeze.
🗳️ One for Islington residents — a feature on the runners and riders who might take on an independent Jeremy Corbyn in the next general election. Among the names being floated to take on the former Labour leader are: favourite Praful Nargund, founder of a chain of IVF clinics with Blairite links; left-winger Sam Tarry, the partner of deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner who was sacked as a shadow minister for joining rail strike pickets; and local councillor Alice Clarke-Perry, a supporter of Keir Starmer’s efforts to root out anti-semitism who’s seen as a more “neutral” candidate if Nargund fails to clinch it.
🍸 Bad headlines for London’s nightlife this week. First is the finding that a higher proportion of pubs, bars, restaurants and nightclubs have closed in central London compared to most other British cities since the pandemic. There are now around 15.6% fewer licensed premises than in March 2020, according to consultants CGA and AlixPartners, and 1% fewer than in December 2022. Not much luck replacing lost clubs in east London — the owners of LDN East in Canning Town have had their plans for a new 2,000-capacity nightclub in a former industrial estate in Barking rejected by the borough council.
⚽ A London gang that made millions illegally streaming Premier League matches to 50,000 paying subscribers has been jailed. The gang’s operation revolved around the streaming of games not shown live in the UK because of “blackout” rules meant to encourage in-person attendance of matches. Trading standards investigators from Hammersmith and Fulham council uncovered the operation with a raid on one of the gang members’ Greenwich flat, discovering 20 to 30 set-top boxes linked together to power the streams.
☮️ A permanent memorial to peace activist Brian Haw is being installed opposite the Imperial War Museum in Southwark. Haw camped outside the Houses of Parliament from 2001 until 2011, becoming a symbol of the movement against the UK’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The statue, created by artist Amanda Ward, depicts him leaning on his crutches and will sit in an alcove on the School of Historical Dress on Lambeth Road.
A mental health ultimatum
In just 92 days, someone needs to figure out a new way of handling mental health crises in London. The clock started ticking on May 24, when health chiefs received a private letter from the Met Police informing them of an impending deadline. By Monday it was leaked to the press: London’s police will no longer respond to mental health emergencies from September 1, unless there is an “immediate threat to life”.
It’s a big if not blunt move that speaks to just how fed up the force is with mission creep. The Met’s commissioner, Sir Mark Rowley, says too much of his officers’ time is now spent attending mental incidents and not enough fighting crime. The reaction of those working in the field has ranged from alarm to scepticism to, in some cases, optimism.
So today here’s an explainer on what exactly the Met is planning and why, what other mental health providers in London think, and whether it could actually work.
The context: London’s police, like most other forces across the county, are spending more and more time responding to mental health incidents, particularly over the past five years. Often that’s triggered by someone dialling 999 because they fear for a loved one — a relative with dementia going missing, or a friend threatening to harm themselves. Other times it could be someone calling the police because a stranger is ill in a public place. Or it may be the person in crisis calling for help themselves. In any case, the Met is now getting a call about a mental health concern in London once every four minutes, and sending an officer out to respond every 12 minutes.
Police involvement in some mental health incidents is unavoidable, simply because it’s only the police who have the legal powers required. Under section 136 of the Mental Health Act officers can detain people so they can get to a place of safety. Police are also a crucial part of helping people in crisis who are suicidal — attending these incidents may involve road or bridge closures and skilled negotiators to talk to the person in crisis and keep them safe.
But with the NHS now so strained in London, police involvement has reached a new level. As detailed in the recent Casey Review into the Met, the force is increasingly stepping in to fill shortfalls in the health service. Most of the time it’s police cars transporting people to places of safety because an ambulance isn’t available. Once officers get to A&E, they can end up waiting in the hospital with the patient for up 14 hours. Other times officers will be called back to the hospital because someone has walked out of the emergency department, tired of waiting for treatment. All-in-all, the Met says its officers are now spending 10,000 hours a month dealing with mental health issues alone.
So what is the Met planning? In a letter to health and care services in the Greater London area, Sir Mark said the Met would be withdrawing from mental health-related calls “no later” than August 31. He said it’ll only waive its ban if a threat to life is feared.
What Sir Mark wants instead of the status quo is a new system called Right Care, Right Person (RCRP). It’s a policy first implemented by police in Humberside in 2020 that likewise saw officers only attending mental health-related callouts deemed essential. Other callouts had to be responded to by medical services.
As to why, Sir Mark wrote that “we are failing Londoners twice”.
“We are failing them first by sending police officers, not medical professionals, to those in mental health crisis, and expecting them to do their best in circumstances where they are not the right people to be dealing with the patient,” he wrote.
“We are failing Londoners a second time by taking large amounts of officer time away from preventing and solving crime, as well as dealing properly with victims, in order to fill gaps for others.”
What’s the reaction? The seemingly unilateral and blunt approach taken by the Met has definitely raised eyebrows. One of the first to speak out was a former police regulator, Zoe Billingham, who described the plan as “alarming”.
“There is literally no one else to call,” the former Inspector of Constabulary told the BBC in a radio interview. “The police have, for the last 40 years, been the service of first resort when your loved one has a mental health illness which is causing them to be either at risk to themselves or at risk to others.
“We dial 999, we call the police. That has always been the situation. This idea that some police forces are talking about, that we need to return to basics in policing which is fighting crime, well that’s just nonsense.”
Others, like the president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, were particularly concerned with the Met’s three-month timeframe.
“The police are the only service to hold certain legal powers to convey a disturbed person from public places to a place of safety and so they are likely to always be needed when people are in acute crisis,” said Dr Adrian James in a statement.
“It is simply unhelpful and impractical to make decisions like these before we have worked out what will happen in some very concerning situations, both for patients with mental illness, but also for the public and police officers alike.”
Representatives of Met officers on the ground were more welcoming of the plans. The Metropolitan Police Federation’s chair Ken Marsh tried to offer reassurance, saying: "I don’t want the public to be overly concerned about this because my colleagues will always deal with someone who is at risk or a risk to others."
Could it work? There’s definitely some cause for optimism when looking at Humberside, where RCRP is now fully rolled out. The force estimates it’s saved 1,100 police hours a month and it now has one of the highest arrest and crime detection rates in the country.
Its switch to RCRP was phased though, unlike what Sir Mark is planning for London. And it also came with more cash for the local health service — something notably absent from the plans for London right now. But the other big lesson from Humberside is that, apparently, setting a tough deadline is a necessary first step — even if you don’t really mean it.
After the Met’s letter came to light, Humberside’s chief constable Lee Freeman, who led the implementation of RCRP in his area, said he recognised Sir Mark’s bluntness.
“I also had to make some very clear statements that were happening and these were dates we were aiming for,” he told Radio 4’s PM programme. “Some of those dates did slip though because it was the right thing to do.”
As to whether the Met’s bluffing too — well we’ll definitely know within three months.
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