‘Scandalous’ lack of beds forcing police to take mental health patients to police stations

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DETAINED mental health patients are being held in police officers’ rest areas due to a lack of hospital places.

In one case a woman was spotted in a station’s report writing room – sparking calls for urgent change.

Politicians, police and campaigners say that this shows how police are having to fill in the gaps of an overstretched mental health system.

Children detained under the Mental Health Act police have doubled in number in three years, figures show.

The number of detained adults has increased to 713 in 2016/17, up from 547 two years prior.

Police bosses had previously vowed to stop using police cells as so-called ‘places of safety’ for those 17 and under.

But the figures obtained by The News shows eight youngsters were held in stations in 2016/17, although not in cells.

Soon a change in the law will stop police from taking children to any part of the police station when detained under section 136 of the Mental Health Act.

Section 136 allows police to take a person from a public place to a place of safety if an officer thinks they have a mental illness and are in need of care or control, which can include people attempting suicide.

Frances Crook, chief executive of the charity Howard League for Penal Reform, campaigns within the criminal justice system.

Reacting to the figures in a statement to The News she said: ‘Police are being expected to cover for the lack of resources and beds in the NHS for children in crisis.

‘This is nothing short of scandalous and it shows that the promises made by government are hollow.’

Senior NHS mental health bosses have admitted a police cell is ‘not the best place for someone experiencing a mental health crisis’.

And John Apter, who represents rank-and-file officers in Hampshire, said ‘other parts of the system are failing’ with police ‘stepping up’.

Mr Apter said: ‘I went to Fareham station and there was a mental health patient asleep across some chairs in the officers’ report writing room.

‘This is a patient, not a prisoner, she needs help and support.

‘The police officers all do all they can but other parts of the system are failing.

‘Time and time again my colleagues are the only ones who are stepping up and offering that support when other organisations are not available or no mental health beds are available.’

There is just one ‘place of safety’ in Portsmouth – at The Orchards, at St James’ Hospital in Milton run by Solent NHS Trust, which is only for adults.

The other four places of safety in Hampshire also have just one place.

Elmleigh in Havant takes all ages, as do the suites in Southampton and Basingstoke, while the Isle of Wight place only takes children. All are open 24 hours a day.

PC Mark Walsh took to Twitter on June 17 after going to help a woman who threatened to jump on train tracks in Fareham.

He revealed how it took four hours to find a place to take the woman. He said: ‘It’s taken four officers off deployments. It’s important though as we had to keep the lady safe.’

PC Walsh said there were no suites for the woman in the county, with one shut due to ‘temperature’.

After three hours in the sun the officers took her to a police station – but not in cells – before a place was found.

Since October just three people have been detained under section 136 in cells.

In a statement, Inspector Huw Griffiths, Hampshire police’s mental health lead, said children had been taken to stations, other than cells, in years prior to 2016/17 but data was not recorded.

He said: ‘Preferably, and particularly in the case of children, we would rather they were taken to an alternative place of safety.

‘However, there are occasions where lack of provision means that it is deemed necessary in the circumstances, and as the least worst option, to bring them into a police station; but as the figures show, this is very infrequent.

‘Hampshire Constabulary made the decision in 2015 that children would no longer be placed in police cells under the Mental Health Act.

‘We extended this decision in late 2016 to stop the use of police stations as a whole. Where no specialist mental health “place of safety” is available, children are taken to the nearest A&E department to wait there until either assessed in the general hospital, or transferred to a mental health unit. We have only used a police station three times since October 2016, and none of the people taken there were children.’

Changes to the Mental Health Act under the Policing and Crime Act will ban the use of police stations as a whole for detained children.

Insp Griffiths added: ‘We remain committed to ensuring that our officers and staff help mentally ill people in the most professional manner ensuring that they receive the best possible care, from the right professional, as quickly as possible.’