A project to stop people in mental health crisis spending hours in a police cell or in A&E while waiting for mental health services is up and running across Cumbria.

For some time now the county’s health and social care providers and Cumbria Constabulary have been working together to develop a pilot programme called the Multi Agency Crisis Assessment Service (MACAS).

The programme was made possible thanks to a funding bid made by the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner to the Home Office. Too many times in the past have people in mental health crisis been sitting for hours in police cells or A&E while mental health services are accessed – this is completely inappropriate and potentially damaging for the person who is in need of help.

Thanks to a £3m grant from the Home Office, and investment from the agencies involved, we have been able to create a totally different approach and we are already seeing results.

This is a very exciting and innovative project and is the first time that partners from health and care services and the police have worked together as one team to make sure that those in mental health crisis get the right help at the right time by the right people.

There are many different elements to the MACAS programme and as the programme is a pilot – or a proof of concept – there is an expectation that some aspects of it will evolve and change, but once each element has been proven to be successful organisations would aspire to replicate it across the county where possible.

One element that is already working is a telephone line called the Single Point of Access where professionals including Cumbria Constabulary can call to speak to a mental health professional if they are presented with someone who is in mental health crisis. The professional mental health advice and support that is given at that point can deescalate the crisis.

Because the SPA line professional has full access to patient notes they are able to access care coordinators and any part of the mental health service that is most appropriate for the person’s needs. All this happens quickly and ensures that the person needing help gets the right help at the right time in the right place.

In the case of the police or ambulance service, they are able to ‘hand over’ in a timely way to the mental health teams rather than spend many hours waiting with the person in A&E or in a police cell.

The project also draws on the valuable assets of the third sector, developing current links and services and introducing Community Hubs. These are places run by the third sector where someone with mental health issues can go and feel safe. There will be input and access to NHS mental health professionals and services and also a range of support through the third sector network.

The first pilot of the community hubs will be in Carlisle and is funded for one year. It is expected it to be open this spring. There is also the development of a 72 hour assessment centre at the Carleton Clinic in Carlisle for patients who require short stay treatment and assessment. This will again help those with more serious mental health issues get the support that they need in order to prevent a crisis happening.