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How does Surrey’s partnership with South East Coast Ambulance work?

Since 2019, Surrey Police have teamed up with the South East Coast Ambulance service to do joint patrols on Friday and Saturday evenings

The initiative was originally set up with C/Inspector Blaine Rafferty alongside Matt England from the South East Coast Ambulance service (SECAmb) as both organisations faced austerity, depleting resources and it was noted that 50% of calls to Surrey police were of a complex health and social care nature.

The Joint Response Unit (JRU) sees a trained paramedic, a PC and a special constable using an ambulance dedicated vehicle to attend incidents together. The vehicle has radios from both services on board and the JRU operates between 3pm and 1am on a Friday and Saturday.

The unit will attend between six and eight incidents per shift – the majority of which are mental-health related, but they also encompass fights, intoxication, domestic assaults, suicide and road traffic incidents. Units are active for around 82 per cent of the shift.

Since the vehicle is classified as an ambulance, it means that hospitals have a time limit within which they need to see the patient so they are seen quickly. Whereas if a police vehicle takes a suspect/patient to hospital they can often experience lengthy A&E waiting times.

Although previous attempts to expand the service have run into funding difficulties, there is currently a review headed by SECAmb into the cost benefits of extending it.

The Joint Response Unit also helps people engage with other services including ‘Safe Havens’ which has mental health first aiders to support those in crisis.

Inspector Rob Brian currently runs the Unit alongside a representative from SECAmb.

He told Police Oracle: “I don’t know the specific numbers, but from working on a response team and speaking to response officers daily, calls to mental health have gone up and are continuing to increase at a massive rate.

“Ambulances are the people who get you into hospitals a lot quicker than police, they know the right routes and other outreach services.

“We don’t know how appropriate it is to put someone in hospital or to section them [but with the link to Safe Havens] we’re taking them to the right place to be safeguarded and to make sure the best treatment is available to them.”

If day to day staff have downtime, they will also sit with Safe Havens to understand what services they can provide.

The initial statistics showed that 85 per cent of calls answered by the JRU required both services to be in attendance and that 35 per cent of the incidents resulted in the unit being able to bring someone to hospital without the need for a further ambulance.

Insp Brian said that there was now a lot more mental health training for officers as well as training in communication and de-escalation.

“What we probably need to understand better is what other support is out there […] to utilise them more than we are probably doing,”  he said.

SECAmb has also partnered with other forces including Kent and Sussex for similar units.

The scheme has also attracted international interest. The Winnipeg police force in Canada has reached out to Surrey over the scheme and has now implemented their own version of it.

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