Metropolitan Police officers will not respond to emergency calls related to mental health situations starting September.
Sir Mark Rowley, the force’s commissioner, has written to health and social care services to inform them that police will no longer respond after August 31 unless there is a threat to life.
The change is intended to allow police to devote more time to their main duties rather than dealing with people in need of expert medical care.
“Where there is an immediate threat to life, officers will continue to respond,” the Met Police stated in a statement.
“In the interests of patients and the public, we urgently need to redress the imbalance of responsibility, where police officers are left delivering health responsibilities.
“Health services must take primacy for caring for the mentally ill, allowing officers to focus on their core responsibilities to prevent and detect crime, and keep communities safe and support victims.”
A Met Police spokesperson told the BBC police spend an average of 10 hours with a patient when they are sectioned under the Mental Health Act.
They said: “In London alone, between 500-600 times a month, officers are waiting for this length of time to hand over to patients, and it cannot continue.
“Police are compassionate and highly skilled but they are not trained to deliver mental health care.”
Former Inspector of Constabulary Zoe Billingham, who is also chairwoman of NHS mental health services in Norfolk and Suffolk, expressed deep concern about the prospect of Metropolitan Police officers not attending emergency calls if they are linked to mental health incidents.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think it would be really, really dangerous if the police were just to unilaterally withdraw from attending mental health crisis calls right now.”
Sarah Hughes, chief executive of Mind, said she was “not persuaded” that the system was ready for such a change.
“I am not persuaded we have got enough in the system to tolerate a shift to this new approach. I think we’ve got a huge way to go before the system is working together on behalf of very distressed individuals,” she said.