Mental health bed crisis forces too many people with mental health problems to be placed in police cells.
Nathan Constable (pseudonym) – Community Care
Thursday 18 October 2012
The constant struggle by police officers and mental health social workers to find beds for detained patients contributes to the ‘overuse’ of police cells as places of safety, writes a police officer.
The chief inspector of prisons has found that most police forces are “dissatisfied” with Mental Health Act assessment services during evenings and weekends. He also warned that police cells are being overused as places of safety for people detained under the Mental Health Act by police.
On many occasions I’ve had an emergency duty team (EDT) refuse to come out and assess someone. Many seem content to ask the police to arrest the person and take them to the cells. We used to do this but we are beginning to refuse.
AMHPs and police need to understand each other’s roles
I have been asked more than once to arrest someone for making “threats”. The EDT’s expectation is that we will just keep a person in a cell until the approved mental health professionals (AMHPs) are ready to carry out an assessment.
When we detain someone on a section 136 this leads to police officers having to sit with the detainee indefinitely. In fact, the lack of a sense of urgency is something all too apparent in after hours provision – even when a patient is struggling violently.
The chief inspector of prisons report also flags up issues around the overuse of police cells as a place of safety, rather than clinical NHS settings, when police detain people under section 136 of the Mental Health Act.
Some forces, like West Midlands, have managed to get 97% of their section 136 detainees into a clinical place of safety after many months of hard strategic work. Other forces are nearer 50-60%.
The remainder go to cells. The Independent Police Complaints Commission have recommended more than once that a police cell should never, ever be used as a place of safety apart from as a last resort.
The government is currently assessing police involvement in mental health cases with a view to heavily reducing the amount of work police have to do. I’m sure they will be looking at whether police cells should continue to be used to hold persons detained under the Mental Health Act.
If they decide they shouldn’t then there will be a massive black hole in provision which mental health care providers will struggle to make up quickly.
Another problem with police cells is that there isn’t the right equipment or staff on hand to deal with prolonged restraint