POLICE officers attending incidents will be backed up by an on-call mental health team in a first for one force.

A new partnership between Durham Police and the Tees Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust will see a mental health practitioner based in the force control room and two others providing a mobile resource.

The seven day a week street triage service being provided aims to provide a better outcome for people with mental health difficulties who come into contact with police officers.

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Fran Bergin, Tees Esk and Wear Valleys adult mental health locality manager, said: “Increasingly police officers can be called to incidents where people with mental ill-health might be in distress.

“Officers don’t have the knowledge or experience that health professionals might have in order to deal with such situations.

“By working alongside officers we can give advice, guidance and reassurance and make sure that the person experiencing mental health problems receives the most appropriate support and treatment as soon as possible.”

Mike Barton, Chief Constable of Durham Police, said: “Having the ability to call on the skills and experience of mental health practitioners is invaluable.

"When someone is suffering from mental health problems sending a police officer is not always appropriate.

“The street triage staff will be able to quickly assess people and determine the best course of action for them and in some cases this could prevent an incident escalating.”

In 2009 the mental health trust was one of the first in the country to pilot a street triage service, on Teesside.

It had a positive impact and paved the way for other similar services across the UK.

The new service will provide telephone support to patients and police officers and staff, as well as general mental health information for officers to help inform them while they carry out their duties.

Where necessary the street triage team will attend police call-outs to provide face to face assessments and sign posting for people who may require support.

Ron Hogg, Durham Police Crime and Victim Commissioner, said: “We have seen how well other street triage teams have worked and how they have reduced the numbers of people being detained inappropriately under the Mental Health Act.

“I have no doubt that our new partnership will have a similar positive impact. It will also help to free-up police officers to respond to other incidents and provide a better outcome for the people who need help.”