PC Jim Sheard, Mental Health Coordinator at South Yorkshire Police, writes about the Herbert Protocol – a risk reduction tool for people living with dementia – and explains why more people need to know about it.

Reporting someone as ‘missing’ to the police can be a deeply distressing and stressful experience, particularly when the person for whom there are concerns is a loved one.

When this person is potentially vulnerable through a condition such as dementia, then the anxiety can be even greater.

When police officers respond to such incidents, they need to gather all sorts of different information and background data. Because of how dementia type conditions affect memory, then much of this information may be historic – such as where the person grew up, any particular places of significance such as school or work place. Information may also be asked for in relation to the person’s physical health and ability to travel about – either by using vehicles, public transport or on foot.

Getting this information early can help the police to find someone quicker and return them home as soon as possible. This is what the Herbert Protocol seeks to do.

Given the stressful nature of making the report to the police and then having an officer arrive to speak to you, then it can be difficult to remember such information accurately.

The Herbert Protocol allows this information to be gathered in ‘slow time’ – it can be completed at leisure, and together with the person for whom there would be concerns in the event that they went missing. It gives families and carers time to think about their responses, to consider locations and places that they may not remember in the heat of an urgent or emergency situation.

There’s no cost associated with this process – the forms can be obtained from the Alzheimer’s Society, from South Yorkshire Police and from a number of other organisations and groups. People can have as many copies as they want – in fact you are actively encouraged to make several copies of the completed form and to give them to neighbours, family, friends and neighbours for them to use in the event that they are the ones reporting someone as missing.

The police do not need to have access to the information until the person to whom it refers is reported as missing – hopefully it will never be needed!

One thing which is very important to remember is that this process is not designed to replace or supersede other ways of ensuring a person’s safety – it’s very much an ‘over and above’ approach. If you or your family need some advice about what this means practically, then you should seek advice and support from your GP, Memory Services clinic, support group or the Alzheimer’s Society who can offer advice, help and support.

The Herbert Protocol is designed to be a simple process. By providing access to accurate information as soon as possible, then officers can ensure that their actions and searches are targeted on the basis of specific information. In such situation, then saving a few minutes can quite literally mean saving lives.

Clearly, this process can be applied to a number of different groups of people. Together with key partners and health professionals, South Yorkshire Police are actively looking to expand the remit of the Herbert Protocol to other potentially vulnerable groups and their carers and families.

For example, the Herbert Protocol was shared with Adult Provider Services in Sheffield and has since been rolled out into their home support service. This means assessors will discuss the Protocol with around 150 families a week. It also means City Wide Care Alarms installers and technicians will discuss the Protocol with families and there are plans to share it with their Shared Lives team.

Find out more about the Herbert Protocol