HMIC: "Unacceptable strain" on police should "disturb everyone".

Police forces are having to pick up the slack as cuts in other public services increase pressure on them, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary has said in its Annual Report.

Sir Thomas Winsor, Chief Inspector of Constabulary, said there was an "unacceptable strain" on police and that the "inadequacy" of mental health provision should "disturb everyone".

Public safety is being put at risk as a result, he said.

"In some forces police officers end up acting as first responders when no ambulances are available...this is a worrying trend," Sir Thomas said.

A Freedom of Information Act request revealed that police officers took sick and injured people to hospital at least 2,012 times last year because ambulances were unavailable.

When considering the daily pressures to which the police are subject, Sir Thomas warned against the insidious creep of expecting police forces to be able to deal with the increasing demand caused by a shortage in mental health provision.

Sir Thomas said: “The police are considered to be the service of last resort. In some areas, particularly where people with mental health problems need urgent help, the police are increasingly being used as the service of first resort. This is wrong.

“The provision of mental healthcare has reached such a state of severity that police are often being used to fill the gaps that other agencies cannot. This is an unacceptable drain on police resources, and it is a profoundly improper way to treat vulnerable people who need care and help.

Reflecting on last month’s attack in Westminster, Sir Thomas paid tribute to the bravery of police officers. He added: “Every day and every night, police officers do things that most of us would go out of our way to avoid. This has been illustrated to a tragically graphic extent by the Westminster terrorist attack in which one very brave police officer, PC Keith Palmer, lost his life.

“Police officers do a difficult job professionally, conscientiously and compassionately, and they deserve our grateful thanks.”

Whilst there are examples of excellence found in the HMIC inspections over the last year, police leaders need to focus more on what matters most, by planning properly for the future, by ensuring that their officers and staff are properly trained, supported and equipped, and by improving the pace of improvement significantly.

Sir Tom also emphasised that the "erosion" of neighbourhood policing highlighted last year is still a concern.

See the full report here