Mind calls for an end to using police cells as a place of safety
Posted Tuesday 9 September 2008
Mind, the leading mental health charity, is calling for an end to the practice of detaining people with mental health problems in police cells for up to 72 hours when they have committed no offence and are in urgent need of medical care.
A shocking new report by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (1) today reveals that patients are being held in police cells almost twice as often as health-based settings as designated 'places of safety' while they wait for a medical assessment under the Mental Health Act. This is despite the Government's commitment that every mental health trust in England should have access to an appropriate health-based place of safety.
In 2006, the Department of Health allocated £100 million to expand the number of appropriate places of safety over two years and to improve psychiatric intensive care units. However, funding failed to take into consideration the additional staffing costs that would be incurred, and as a result, places of safety have been built and are sitting empty as trusts cannot afford to staff them. According to the IPCC research, one newly built place of safety is currently being used as a "stock room".
Mind's Policy Director, Sophie Corlett, said:
"Often people are detained by police because they are attempting to take their own lives or are extremely confused and vulnerable. When someone is experiencing extreme mental distress, they need urgent medical care and attention. Police cells are not designed to house people in need of urgent therapeutic care, and are entirely unsuitable for this purpose - it's one of the worst places you could think of to be. A physical health emergency would not be met with detention in a police cell.
"Police are not mental health experts and do not have training or resources to provide the care that vulnerable people need. Both Mind and police groups have been saying for years that police cells should only be used as places of safety when all other options have been exhausted.
"It's a shambles that despite extra government investment to provide new, health-based places of safety, the funding does not extend to cover staffing costs and in some areas places of safety are standing empty. A much needed resource is going to waste."
Last year, research by Mind (2) revealed that some people with mental health problems who had been held in police cells as a place of safety had been strip-searched, left naked in a cell, left cold, hungry and thirsty, not given the medication they needed, been restrained by more than one officer and been insulted or patronised. In almost all cases, they were left feeling vulnerable and distressed.
One service user, who was detained in police custody after attempting to take her own life, said:
"It's got to have been the most awful night of my life - I still have flashbacks about it. It was the most awful, tawdry experience, not the sort of thing you'd ever expect. I was in there for about 14 hours, and it was 12 hours before I saw a doctor, and five hours before they brought me a drink. You were a prisoner, a criminal."
(1) IPCC Police Custody as a Place of Safety Under the Mental Health Act (2008)
(2) Mind Another Assault (2007)
Notes to editors
- Mind is the leading mental health charity in England and Wales. We work to create a better life for everyone with experience of mental distress.
- For more information, interviews and a range of case studies please contact Mind's media office on T: 020 8522 1743 M: 07850 788514 E: email@example.com ISDN line available: 020 8221 0817
- Please note that Mind is not an acronym and should be set in title case.