ANYONE who saw this week's episode of BBC series Reported Missing will be aware of the pain and devastation a family can go through when a loved one goes missing.

The heartbreaking BBC programme told how 77-year-old Jean Lloyd, from Neston on The Wirral, went missing after she took the bus to a doctor’s appointment on her own in April this year.

A large-scale search for the pensioner, who suffered from schizophrenia was launched when she failed to return with the programme showing how, bit by bit the police manage to piece together CCTV and information about her health

As the investigation develops, Cheshire Police leave no stone unturned, calling in the services of Cheshire search-and-rescue volunteers, the National Police Air Service and the North West Police Underwater Search and Marine Unit.

But in a shocking turn of events, Jean was found dead four days later, close to the Sealand Army Rifle range not far from Shotwick Lake after it emerged she may have got lost and decided to go to sleep.

“There is nothing more frightening or distressing than when a loved one, friend or neighbour fails to return home when they are expected," says Neil Ayling, chief officer of social services at Flintshire County Council and Chair of the North Wales Adults Safeguarding Board.

"The story of Jean was one that really gripped the public possibly because we all have people who suffer from dementia in our families and we are all concerned about them."

Neil was one of a number of speakers at the launch of a new scheme being launched in North Wales which provides valuable information for those who search for missing vulnerable people.

The Herbert Protocol is a national scheme being introduced locally by the North Wales Safeguarding Board and North Wales Police to encourage carers and family members to compile useful key information which could be used in the event of a vulnerable person like Jean who has gone missing.

This can include anything from details of places frequented to medication required, general routines, description and a recent photograph.

Described as a simple risk reduction tool to help the police in their search for adults at risk, a form is filled in by the person at risk, their family or carers and kept safely and where it can be found quickly in the unfortunate event of the person going missing.

The protocol is named after George Herbert, a war veteran of the D-Day landings in Normandy who was suffering from dementia when he went missing several years ago.

"We want to ensure we have the best procedures so, if it is our loved ones at risk and who are alone and vulnerable, we have the best possible chance of responding."

Launched by neighbouring Cheshire Police in April 2017 as part of that constabulary’s continuing commitment to become a dementia-friendly force, CI Simon Newell, who spoke at the launch, says: “The Herbert Protocol has now been running for twelve months and it’s already started to make a real difference to the way we work.

“Not only have there been instances where the information contained within the form has been used effectively to locate individuals who had gone missing, but it’s also an extremely effective engagement tool, allowing officers to link in with some of our most vulnerable residents."

As Jean's sad case made clear there is often a risk that people living with dementia can at some point start to 'walk about'. While this may only be into the garden or street and returning a short time later, some people can get lost and go missing.

"Getting lost and becoming disorientated can be a symptom of dementia," continues Neal. "Working with families and carers to have that information beforehand in case there is an incidence of someone becoming lost, the police and agencies have as much detailed information that allows them to narrow their search and find people before it's too late.

"People still need their independence and the protocol can help to reassure their family and friends that, if their loved one does go missing, the information can be passed through swiftly and there is a greater chance of finding them quickly".

"The police are a hugely significant partner in this but there are also voluntary organisations involved such as the Alzheimers Society whose expertise is crucial in making this multi-agency partnership work."

Responding to reports of missing persons represents one of the biggest demands on the resources of police organisations. In the UK, it is estimated that over 300,000 missing persons incidents are recorded by the police each year which means that a person in the UK is recorded missing by the police approximately every two minutes.

"If we put in this time to work together we should actually reduce the amount of hours officers could be out in the middle of the night looking for people," adds Neil.

It's a view backed up by Chief Constable Gareth Pritchard who made clear North Wales Police Force's commitment to the new scheme at the launch and urged people to fill in a form.

"It's known that people in certain situations will go to certain destinations and it's about pulling that information together ," says Chief Con Pritchard. "They might go to where they used to work, their old school or maybe a cemetery. We have fantastic search and rescue teams and we want to get those teams up and running as quickly as possible so getting data, locations and an up to date photograph is a real help.

“We've had some sad events and we know that sometimes searches come to a sad conclusion but there are opportunities for people to live independent lives and manage the risks - with this information it increases the probability that we can find them quickly and safe and well."