Police officers have faced an “explosion” in tackling mental health issues on the streets – diverting them from fighting crime, a meeting has heard.

Officers are increasingly the last resort for people with mental health issues, dementia, Alzheimer’s, or runaways from the care system, according to police and crime commissioner Peter McCall.

New figures out this week also show that mental health issues are starting to affect police officers, with the number in Cumbria taking time off work more than doubling in the last four years.

The number of officers citing anxiety, depression or stress as a reason for being off work rose from 62 in 2015, to 112 in 2018, according to a Freedom of Information request by the BBC.

Peter McCall, the Conservative police and crime commissioner, addressed a meeting yesterday which heard that 60 per cent of police work is now on “non-crime issues”.

Mr McCall said: “A large percentage of the people police officers end up arresting have a mental health issue.

“When other services fail to pick these people up, they end up on the street, or wherever it might be, and when everything else has failed, people call the police. The police have a responsibility to protect the public. I intend to be pushing back on this – particularly in the area of missing children. There are various agencies who are paid to look after cared for children but from what I can see make little provision for the fact they continually go missing. Again, if a child goes missing in one of our rural areas the resource that easily sucks up – and then people wonder why we haven’t got bobbies patrolling our town centre.”

Responding to the latest figures concerning officers being affected by mental health issues, opposition MPs blamed cuts in the service.

Barrow and Furness MP John Woodcock said: “Cuts to our police force mean officers are working flat out trying to cover more crime with fewer people - it is no wonder that sickness rates are rocketing in these circumstances. The fight against the scourge of county lines bringing drugs into our communities from big cities needs a well-funded properly valued local police force. We need to keep pressing the Government to re-think the way it funds one of our most vital public services or local people will be put under greater and greater risk.”

Westmorland MP Tim Farron said officers were increasingly sent to deal with incidents on their own. He said: “There can be no shying away from the fact that the Conservative government’s decision to significantly cut the number of officers here in the South Lakes means our officers are more likely to be left vulnerable and at risk.”

However, Mr McCall strongly denied the “party politics” and insisted officer numbers had not been cut in Cumbria.

He said the force expected to have 1,165 this year - up from 1,120 when he took over. It follows the recruitment last year of 25 new officers with plans being drawn-up to take on a further 20.

Mr McCall said: “We are bucking the trend for increased officer numbers in Cumbria. In the last 10 years it’s no secret that police funding has suffered and many forces have seen a reduction in officer numbers but not here in Cumbria. You will hear all the time that across the country 21,000 have been cut but Cumbria has not seen those cuts.

“I am not suggesting we have not suffered because of a result of limited funding because we have. We may not have taken cuts in police officer numbers, but we have seen demand on the police service increasing dramatically.”

Paul Senior, secretary of the Cumbria Police Federation, said officers suffered from mental health when funding cuts led to increased workloads.

He said: “Cuts are the main reason for this problem and we have to ask ourselves are we there for the public or are we there to serve the Government?”

On officers affected by mental health, Mr Senior added: “It is the constant drip, drip of incidents that is having an impact. Those officers who attend extreme and horrendous incidents regularly are provided with counselling and supported, but it is the everyday bobby on the street who is being affected. I know officers who have been with the service for many years and after attending a particular incident, even if it was 15 years ago it can suddenly resurface and all of a sudden it can ruin them and their careers.”