New Briefing Calls For Police And Mental Health Services To Work Better And Together

The publication of a briefing on the Police and Mental Health has again brought to the fore the need for a wholesale review of the use of police cells as places of safety for mental health patients, which race equality groups and health experts say has never been more urgent.

Assessment suites should be provided by mental health services in all areas so that police stations are no longer used regularly as ‘places of safety’ for people police officers detain people under the Mental Health Act this papers entitled ‘ The Police and Mental Health’  states .

The police treatment of mental health patients has once again hit the headlines after the tragic death of an African Caribbean service user, Sean Rigg 40, who lost his life just 91 minutes after he was detained at Brixton police station in August this year.

This new briefing, published by The Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health, makes it clear that  it is police officers, who have very little training in mental  health awareness, that are often the first to be called  to any incident of a person experiencing a mental health crisis.

In fact police officers spend a significant amount of their time interacting with people with mental health problem. This new  briefing makes reference to unpublished research undertaken within the Metropolitan Police, which suggests that 15% of incidents officers deal with on a daily basis are mental health related.

Police, health and social care agencies need to work together

This research also gives an overview of the role of the police in relation to mental health and identifies areas for policy development.  The need for the police agencies to work with social and healthcare agencies in order to bridge some of the care gaps faced by people when in crisis is clearly laid out in this brief.

This paper also calls on the NHS to manage health care for people in police custody and to take a more active role in diverting people with mental health problems to the services they need. This paper also argues that all police staff should be offered training to help them to respond better to people experiencing a mental health crisis.

Rob Fitzpatrick, Sainsbury Centre project manager and co-author of The Police and Mental Health, said: “The police are often the first point of contact for a person in a mental health crisis.
Yet police officers rarely have mental health training and there are too few opportunities to divert people from police stations to health and social care services. We are missing a valuable opportunity to identify people who need help and give them support to keep them out of custody.

“Yet the opportunities to build a closer relationship between the police and health and social services now exist. Safer Neighbourhood teams could, for example, work closely with mental health teams and other local services to help people who need support to keep out of the criminal justice system.”

The Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) 1984, which is currently under review and the Mental Health Act 1983, which has just been updated by the 2007 Mental Health Act form the regulations by which the police work with people who use mental health services.

Where a person is suspected of having a mental health problem and is considered to be in need of immediate care or control the police can use Section 126 of the Mental Health Act to take a person from a public place to a ‘place of safety for up to 72 hours.

‘Police cells are not places of safety’

prison_cell.jpgThe IPPC and Royal College of Psychiatrists report on the use of Section 136 by the police ,  published just last week, confirmed the consensus widely held within ethnic minority communities that police cells are by no means a place of safety, but rather are likely to cause trauma to anyone in a vulnerable state.

Health experts have stated  that this practice rather criminalises one of society’s most vulnerable groups.

The Count Me In  Census Report 2007  shows that people from  African Caribbean communities 50% more likely to be referred to mental health services via the police, despite having similar rates of mental illness as their white counterparts. Experts and human rights groups are concerned that this bad practice will  continue to hit   black communities hardest and  damage the trust community cohesion  that has been developed.

This report says that an estimated 11,000 people are detained in police cells as places of safety every year. Many police forces have stated that  they have no alternative to using their cells due to lack of appropriate hospital facilities they can transfer patients to.

Questions raised over £100 million allocated to building bespoke places of safety

Disturbingly  £100 million  has already been allocated by the Department of Health to increase the number of health based places of safety and improve intensive psychiatric units. The IPCC’s new report on Police Custody as a place of safey ;has revealed that staffing costs have not been taken into account and so places of safety have been built but are sitting empty as health trusts cannot afford to staff them. One newly built place of safety is currently being used as a stock room the IPCC report says.

This SCMH briefing recommends greater involvement with PCTs in the provision of health services within police custody,  improvement in the treatment of those in need of metal health care; training and development for officers to learn more about mental health issues and how to engage more effectively with communities and local agencies.

The Police and mental health briefing by Paul Bather and  Max Rutherford was published by the Sainsbury’s Centre for Mental Health.