Staffordshire's Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Ellis says cells are the wrong place for people suffering a mental health crisis.
Responding to Wednesday's Care Quality Commission (CQC0 map of health-based places of safety, said custody cells were fundamentally the wrong location.
The CQC map shows that over a third of NHS and other mental health ‘places of safety’ in England do not admit under 16s – potentially forcing them into police custody instead.
Although the restrictions on under-16s are not in place in Staffordshire, the research reflects ongoing work to stop police cells being used as a place of safety for individuals with a mental health condition to be held unless they have committed a crime.
In February, at a meeting instigated by the PCC, senior representatives from Health, Social Care, Local Authorities and Police in Staffordshire signed up to a series of principles which make it a ‘serious action’ for police custody cells to be used in this way, automatically triggering a multi-agency review to confirm the appropriateness or otherwise of use.
The principles which have been formally adopted and will be realised in the next year are:
• All detentions under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act in police custody will have triggered a multi-agency review to see whether they are ‘exceptional’.
• All frontline police officers will have clearly defined access to mental health advice, support and information.
• The total number of Section 136 detentions managed in the NHS and on an ‘exceptional basis’ in police custody will have fallen.
• The proportion of Section 136 detentions requiring an immediate intervention from mental health services will have increased.
Mr Ellis said: “Today’s findings from the CQC reinforce the fact that police custody cells are fundamentally the wrong place for individuals with a mental health condition to be held unless they have committed an offence.”
107 people with suspected mental health conditions were held in police cells over a nine month period ending December 2013 and a report commissioned by Mr Ellis showed that nearly 20 per cent of total policing time across Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent is spent dealing with mental health- related incidents.
The ‘Staffordshire Report’ was instigated and published following two months’ of meetings the Commissioner held with frontline police officers and others to discuss the issues that affected policing most.
Mr Ellis said what he was told provided serious cause for concern not only for policing but primarily because individuals who are simply ill find themselves locked in a cell because the right services aren’t available in the right way.
“The report highlighted the scale of the problem and made it clear that a lack of joined-up services and a lack of the right support at the right time for people in mental health crisis are key reasons why individuals end up in police cells instead of more appropriate facilities,” he said.
“It’s right that the problem has risen high on the national agenda and it was helpful that the Home Secretary used the Staffordshire Report to reinforce the scale of the problem. Nearly all the agencies across Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent that can make change happen are now working together at the highest level to make sure change actually does happen.
“What I am certain is that the determination and genuine ambition that is being shown will result in more effective support and a better, fairer system.”