Stop treating police officers as mental health workers and build 24-hour “sanctuaries” for people in need of treatment.
That was the call made by North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones at a meeting of Conwy Council on Thursday night.
Police officers were having to act like health care staff on too many occasions because of a lack of 24 hour emergency mental health facilities in the region, Mr Jones said.
“What I want to see is for sanctuaries to be provided because at the moment the only place people suffering with mental health problems can be taken is to hospitals.
“We need crisis centres so they are not having to be brought into police stations,” he added.
He added: “North Wales has three mental health units in Bangor, Bodelwyddan and Wrexham. Community services do not operate outside of office hours; there are no triage facilities or sanctuaries available.”
Numbers produced by the force showed that 13% of police call-outs were related to mental health.
With North Wales Police dealing with 123,381 incidents during 2016/17 this would mean there were 16,040 mental health related incidents in the region in a year.
“Dealing with increased mental health demand has been identified by officers in North Wales Police as the greatest external demand placed upon them and the large numbers of incidents allied to limited available health related options to help deal with them effectively is the single biggest source of frustration for them,” he said.
Mr Jones told a meeting of the council’s economy and place scrutiny committee of two examples where police resources were used to care for people suffering from mental health illnesses.
In one a social worker visited a teenager who was withdrawing from drugs and threatening to self harm.
Police officers detained him and took him to Wrexham’s mental health unit to be told they needed to go to Bodelwyddan only to be turned around and sent back to Wrexham, making a 77 mile journey with a child in a police car.
In another officers had to make a 128 mile journey as they travelled from Bodelwyddan to Bangor to Caernarfon and then to Wrexham in search of a suitable unit for a man who had tried to self-harm.
He added: “There is only so long that North Wales Police can continue to pick up the pieces for other partners.”
Lesley Singleton, director of partnerships for mental health and learning disabilities at the health board said: “We have made improving the support available to people in an acute mental health crisis our first year priority as we begin implementing our integrated mental health strategy Together for Mental Health in North Wales.
“To support this we are working with our partners to develop local alternatives to hospital admission and these include crisis cafes, sanctuaries, and step down services.”