Police 'filling the gap' to transport patients for medical help, warns federation chairman
PUBLISHED: 11:40 07 February 2019 | UPDATED: 11:40 07 February 2019
The police federation chairman in Norfolk has warned officers are “filling the gap”, as figures show they took patients to hospital and safe places more than 100 times last year.
In January last year, Norfolk police’s control room inspectors were given the ability to record occasions where they took someone to hospital, or another place of safety, in a situation “which should have been addressed by another agency or partner”.
The figures, released under a Freedom of Information request, show the officers transported people on 104 occasions in 2018.
Police said more instances may not have been flagged up to the inspector, and that in “isolated cases” they may have identified other transport.
On several occasions, police transported two or three people, and five on October 15.
Assistant chief constable Nick Davison said the fundamental role of police was to “keep the public safe and protect them from harm”.
“There are occasions where police officers are transporting ill or injured people to hospital at times when ambulances are not available or have prioritised the incident as less urgent given their overall demand and risk assessment surrounding the injuries,” he said.
“While this ultimately takes officers away from their frontline duties at a time when our demand is increasing, crime is becoming more complex and resources are stretched, fundamentally the police have a duty to protect life.
“We are working closely with the East of England Ambulance Service along with the other forces in the eastern region to address and resolve these issues.”
He said the challenge was “system wide”, and did not centre on one particular agency.
Incidents where police transportation was needed included injuries, overdoses, self-harm, mental health concerns and alcohol-related issues.
Andy Symonds, chairman of the Norfolk Police Federation, said austerity meant police were “filling the gap” for other stretched agencies.
“We are the service which should be the last resort, but often we become the first resort,” he said. “I think we struggle to push back on it sometimes and it is a big problem.
“We spend many hours with patients, both with mental and physical health problems.”
A spokesman for the East of England Ambulance Service said: “We are working with our partner agencies to overcome challenges that exist across the emergency services.
“We have been working with police control rooms in both Norfolk and Suffolk to improve our coordinated responses to all who access the 999 system.”
Pressure piling on 101 calls
The figures come just weeks after the county’s chief constable warned that pressure on health services was forcing officers to pick up the slack.
Simon Bailey said at the end of January that “failures of other organisations” was piling pressure on its 101, non-emergency, number in particular.
“Ultimately we have to try to address the calls coming into the control room which has nothing to do with the police service, but is demand from the failure of other organisations,” he said.
“We see a spike when those organisations are shutting down their phone lines and services.”
He said the solution to the problems had to start at Westminster, and that the force had engaged with its partners.
“101 is a very memorable number and people will use it,” he said. “We are always going to be the service of last resort. That will always be the case until there is a whole system approach.”