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Lost and found: the Herbert Protocol for when someone goes missing

Missing in action

A war veteran of the Normandy landings named George Herbert, who lived with dementia in a  care home, has lent his name to what has become a nationwide protocol for vulnerable people who go missing.  The Herbert Protocol was initially designed to help Norfolk Police find people, such as Mr Herbert, who went missing from care homes, by encouraging carers to compile useful information which could be used in the event of a person going missing.

Sergeant Lucinda Cunningham is responsible for dementia awareness at Norfolk Police and has just completed an evaluation report on a new 18-month Herbert Protocol pilot project for those people who live with dementia but who also still live at home.  She explains why the Protocol has broadened out from care homes: ‘One of the things we recognised about people living with dementia in Norfolk is that there is a huge number who live independently, and we would like to support them to live well with dementia.’

The new scheme, she adds, ‘has allowed us to offer a variety of safeguarding advice to people and their families/carers, and has allowed us to gather important personal information to help find someone quickly, if they go missing.’

Back to the future

The idea is for carers, family members and friends to complete the form in advance and record vital details such as medication required, mobile numbers, places previously located (if they’ve gone missing before), and photographs.  Plus, Sergeant Cunningham adds: ‘We also gather historic information because we realise that people with dementia often revisit periods of time in their long term memory, so we ask where they went to school; where they lived as a child; where they enjoyed going on holiday, and where they got married – any place where there was an emotional attachment and they might want to visit again.’

This time of year people are particularly vulnerable. ‘Sometimes people with dementia leave the house or go missing without being appropriately dressed for the weather conditions, and often have other health conditions as well, so the quicker we can locate people, the better , and this is where the Herbert Protocol can be invaluable ,’ notes Sergeant Cunningham.

The Herbert Protocol is now widely used by police forces across the UK.   Once the form has been completed, it’s a good idea for relatives and carers to know exactly where it is, for instance in a prominent place in the persons home, and for copies to be made.

Signposting to help

Following a missing person incident, Norfolk Police will make a home visit, signposting people to other agencies, if and when necessary. ‘It’s a multi-agency approach – for example we can signpost people to Norfolk Adult Services, where there are Social Workers who can provide assessments and a whole network of support options. They can also offer Assistive Technology, such as door alarms, pressure mats and GPS tracking devices which could make a huge difference to alerting a carer when someone goes missing, and identifying their location so they can be returned home safe and sound.’ They also hand out useful information from the Alzheimer’s Society.

Since around November 2015, Norfolk Police have made 54 such visits. ‘We have supported a lady who lived independently with early onset dementia and, thanks to The Herbert Protocol and a joined up approach between ourselves, her next of kin, adult social services and a local respite unit, we managed to prolong her independence at home for longer than it would’ve been otherwise.’  Sergeant Cunningham adds: ‘I think some people are surprised to have a visit from the police in these circumstances but when it instigates a wraparound multi-agency approach it can help make a long term difference.’

It’s clear that she loves her job: ‘I’m really passionate about it, and have also become a Dementia Champion so that I can help spread awareness. Dementia has touched my personal life, and if I’d been equipped with this amount of information years ago it would’ve made a massive difference to my understanding of what was happening to that person I knew, and how I could have supported them.’

And she adds: ‘I still keep in touch with some of the people I’ve visited. I often chat to a lady, whose husband had dementia, but she’s on her own now – if you’ve already built up a rapport with someone I think it’s good to know that people still care.’

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