New mental healthcare law will mean more 'disturbed' people for police to deal with: police, municipalities

Netherlands police uniform
A police officer walking the beat in Amsterdam. 5 May 2015. (Photo: Joeppoulssen / DepositPhotos)

Municipalities and the police are very concerned about the new Compulsory Mental Healthcare Act that takes effect on January 1st. They worry that the law will result in even more people with serious mental health problems being treated at home. And because there is already not enough outpatient care to help people at home 24/7, this will increase the pressure on the police, Liesbeth Spies, mayor of Alphen aan den Rijn and chairman of the Society of Dutch Mayors, said to Nieuwsuur.

"The police are increasingly involved and more intensively involved in the care of people with disturbed behavior. We must reverse that trend", Spies said to the program. At the Almere police, almost half of the police capacity is already dedicated to taking in people with disturbed behavior, she said. "It is really mopping with the tap open at this time, to get the care for these people - wo really need that care - better arranged."

Disturbed behavior is a comprehensive category that ranges from people with dementia wandering the streets, to people with serious mental health problems that pose a danger to themselves or others. The man suspected of murdering two people in a cinema in Groningen on Saturday, also falls under this category. 

The number of incidents involving 'disturbed' people that the police respond to has doubled in the past five years, and the number is still rising. The police and municipalities have been looking for solutions since 2015, Henk van Dijk of the National Police said to Nieuwsuur. "But so far, the incidents are only increasing."

Van Dijk expects that the Compulsory Mental Healthcare Act will only exasperate the problems. Among other things, this law makes it possible to use coercive measures to force a patient to undergo treatment, also at home. This can mean that more patients can be treated at home. "Of course it is nice if more people can get help at home, but we see this care is already not enough and we think that the municipality should take even more control than it does now", Van Dijk said. 

According to Spies, the crux of the problem is that patient privacy stands paramount, which means that the police and mental healthcare institutions cannot share information. Staff shortages in healthcare also plays a major role. "And we won't solve that by January 1st."

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