Mental health nurses are supporting staff in the force control room at Cambridgeshire Constabulary to help deal with a huge rise in the number of calls from people in crisis.

Almost 80 per cent of the 350,000 calls, both 999 and 101, received by Cambridgeshire police during the last year have been recorded as “not related to crime”.

A pilot project was launched with funding from the office of the police and crime commissioner to fund five mental health nurses and they are now a permanent fixture, with plans to expand other areas of social support.

Chief Constable Nick Dean said: “We are definitely seeing an increase in demand from people who have mental health problems and, while we welcome the fact that they feel confident to come forward and the stigma in society is being removed, we are not the best agency to deal with this.

“What we are seeing is symptomatic of the pressures in society that people are experiencing in their daily lives. Around 77 per cent of all calls are not crime related, and 40 per cent of those are what we would describe as 'concerns for safety'”.

Chief Constable Dean would like to see a new command hub that includes multi-agency staff to deal with the complex and broad nature of calls. He said he understood why people turned to the police for help when they were in a desperate situation, but his organisation needed to reorganise itself to cope with demand in the future.

“We can't do this alone or in isolation,” said Chief Constable Dean. “We need other agencies to work alongside the police to ensure people get the right service at the right time - a more holistic approach. It is a careful balance and as demand for our service grows we may need to make some difficult decisions. We are not the specialist in this area of concern.”

Chief Constable Dean was speaking on Tuesday after a community engagement meeting held in St Neots on Monday night.

A spokesman for the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust said: “Police are often the first people to make contact with those in mental health crisis. Via their phones, officers can seek immediate advice from our staff and the staff can also speak directly to the person involved.

“The team has been a tremendous boost to officers helping them with their frontline duties and also their overall understanding of mental health issues.”