Shared non-emergency number for all public services could be answer to police's 101 woes, new Chief Constable says

Chief Constable Lisa Winward
Chief Constable Lisa Winward

NATIONAL SOLUTIONS need to be found for the huge surge in calls to police non-emergency number 101, according to North Yorkshire’s new Chief Constable.

The unprecedented rise in calls from the public in recent years has put strain on forces up and down the country and Lisa Winward said many of the calls are for non-policing matters.

Ms Winward, who became Chief Constable earlier this month, said there were two possible remedies: either 101 should be replaced by a new non-emergency number for all public services, including the NHS and local authorities, or the phone numbers of other agencies should be better publicised through a major new marketing campaign.

“I think there’s a whole piece of work we could do nationally. We’ve got a number of choices here, haven’t we? Do we go down the route of saying, let’s have a true multi-agency call centre; you ring 101 but actually all the agencies that you need to be in there are sitting in there and you therefore field the calls by which agency the person needs?” she said.

“Or do we separate them out? But if we do that, we need to go on a marketing campaign to educate people about which agency to ring about which thing.

“In my personal view, I think a multi-agency call centre would be a better service to the public because then they’re just ringing one place and also some of those people who are ringing us need several services.”

Ms Winward said the creation of a multi-agency number was being discussed at a national level around 10 years ago but “never actually happened”, with the numbers 101 for police and 111 for the NHS rolled out in 2012 and 2013.

The recent rise in calls has seen North Yorkshire Police open an extension to its control room as part of a £3m investment.

Last month, The Yorkshire Post revealed that in neighbouring West Yorkshire, officers were being taken off their regular duties to man phones due to a similar influx.

In South Yorkshire, the police had struck a partnership with Sheffield City Council so people could report anti-social behaviour through 101, but the agreement ended earlier this year.

Ms Winward said she believed there were a number of reasons why people were calling 101 more and more.

She said people had greater access to mobile phones than in previous years, while people were also reporting issues like abuse on social media, which were a relatively recent phenomenon.

Ms Winward said anti-terror campaigns urging people to contact police if they spot anything suspicious, while hugely important, had also led to “mission creep”, with people getting the message that if they have anything to tell the public sector, they should ring the police.

And she said many people were calling 101 about a wide variety of issues because it is the “easiest and most accessible number to ring if you want anything from a public service”.

She said: “If somebody’s got mental health problems nobody picks the phone up to the health service, they ring the police because the person’s having a mental health crisis.

“And it’s right that they call us if the person’s in crisis, but actually we and the health service need to say we have dealt with the crisis, you, health service, go off and help the person - but that doesn’t happen.”