Newsnight given unprecedented access by Beds Police highlighting surge in mental health demand

Mental health

Bedfordshire Police force’s mental health street triage (MHST) team have given the BBC unprecedented access to highlight the surge in demand for their services during the pandemic.

It is part of a film on last night’s Newsnight (Tuesday) showcasing the pressures facing policing in the county amidst a rise in calls and jobs to help and support people in need of mental health care.

You can watch the episode on BBC iPlayer here.

Cases have risen from one incident with a suicide marker attached to it received in January 2020 to 289 received in March 2021.

The force is dealing with around nine incidents every day.

These are defined as incidents where the person has made a serious attempt to take their own life, only being prevented by a limited number of reasons such as contact from the police or other emergency services.

Separately, overall police incidents with a mental health tag increased from 586 in January 2020 to 838 in March.

Superintendent Steve Ashdown, from the FCC, said: “Since the coronavirus pandemic we have seen a marked increase in people reaching out to us, specifically around mental health-related incidents from the public.

“This has impacted people from every age range across all our communities in Bedfordshire.

“We work alongside our partners in healthcare to support people in our communities who may be suffering a mental health crisis, such as through our specialist mental health street triage team.

“We have also introduced a range of measures to support our officers and staff, who are undoubtedly feeling the impact of dealing with these incidents on a daily basis.

“It has been an extraordinary year which has placed huge pressure and strain on all of us in different ways.

“Support with your mental health and wellbeing is always available to people, regardless of who you are and where you come from, so please never be afraid to reach out and seek help.”

Mental health support for officers as well as the public

The Newsnight film focuses on a number of initiatives by Bedfordshire Police to provide mental health support to its officers and staff, as well as the public.

The MHST team launched in 2016 sees police officers work and respond to calls jointly with a paramedic and mental health nurse.

This team has diverted thousands of police and ambulance call-outs, avoiding the need for people to be detained under the Mental Health Act or attend A&E.

A joint mental health hub launched in 2019 which includes a single point of contact within the police for mental health services, while police also have two full-time mental health professionals based in the FCC for support, advice and intervention.

This is alongside training and inputs to officers to help them spot the signs of those in a mental or physical health crisis.

A number of the force’s service dogs are being trialled as wellbeing dogs in the FCC as welfare support to call handlers responding to mental health calls.

Other measures for staff include working with the National Wellbeing Service as well as Police Care, which the force is working with around processes and techniques to support officers and staff with the early processing of trauma.

All new recruits get this as part of their training, while this is due to be made available as part of FCC training and then be rolled out across the force.

Bedfordshire Police has also introduced a dedicated Detective Chief Inspector for People and Workforce Development as a health and wellbeing lead for the force.

The same team includes a dedicated health and wellbeing coordinator and two health and wellbeing supporters.

The force is building a peer support network and working with other agencies to ensure support continues to evolve for its officers and staff.

Mental health crisis support for all ages is available 24 hours a day every day across Bedfordshire and Luton by contacting NHS 111 (option 2) or the Samaritans on 116 123 (freephone) or by emailing

The Samaritans have also published guidance on how you might help someone you are worried about, which is available to view on their website.

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