A Welsh Crisis Care Concordat aims to substantially decrease the number of people who are held in police cells when they experience a mental health crisis and end this practice entirely for children and young people under 18.
The concordat will be announced today by the minister for health and social services, Professor Mark Drakeford. It will bring together agencies including the police, health boards, A&E departments and third sector organisations.
In Wales in 2014–15, there were 541 incidences of people being detained in police cells as a place of safety under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act. Of these, 16 were under the age of 18.
Mind Cymru director and chair of the Wales Alliance on Mental Health Sara Moseley will chair the task and finish group that has been set up to oversee the implementation of the Crisis Care Concordat in Wales. She said:
"When you are in crisis you are at your most vulnerable. You may be experiencing delusions or hallucinations, you might be suicidal or self-harming, it can be very frightening – you need the right help urgently. A police cell is a completely inappropriate environment in which to receive that care and support. Mind have been campaigning for action on reducing the use of police cells for people in crisis for many years.
"Bringing together so many agencies including the police, the NHS and the third sector is a great achievement and shows how determined we are to create change. Chairing the task and finish group overseeing the delivery of the concordat is our opportunity to hold the Welsh Government and all the agencies involved in this to account. We expect to see a big improvement by this time next year.
"This is a crucial first step but there's a lot more to do to make sure that anyone experiencing a mental health crisis gets the right care. We need to make sure that mental health services are properly resourced so that they can cope with demand and get people the help they need early on to prevent them reaching crisis point in the first place. Great crisis care exists but we need to make sure it exists for anyone in Wales who needs it."
Louisa lives in Ceredigion. When she experienced a mental health crisis last year, she was held in a police cell for over 24 hours. Here’s how she described her experience:
"With my Borderline Personality Disorder, crises are usually quite sudden. In this case, I suddenly became very depressed and suicidal.
"I left the supported accommodation where I was living in Cardigan. As I didn't return and the staff knew I had been not feeling very good that day, they called the police, who found me and detained me under a Section 136. I was taken to a hospital where there was no 136 suite, so I was turned away. We travelled to another nearby hospital, in which the staff were too busy to be able to sit with me whilst waiting for the 136 assessment to happen, so we were again turned away. A third hospital had no beds, and so the sergeant made the difficult decision to keep me in a cell while they searched for a hospital bed with the triage team. It made me more anxious than I already was, as there were others in the cells who had committed crimes and were being very vocal. That made me feel worse.
"I think access to crisis beds in the community would help avoid people having to be detained in police cells. I think that being in a cell should only be used as a very last resort, as it can damage your already fragile mental health when you are in a crisis.
"The street triage were working behind the scenes the whole time to find me a hospital bed, which I was unaware of at the time. This helped enormously as in the end, I managed to get a bed in Swansea - out of area, but not too far from home.
"I definitely do not want to level blame at the police. They dealt with me in a kind and compassionate manner throughout. I have had contact with the street triage since and this has prevented me from having to be held in a cell again."
Mind has called upon all of the major political parties in Wales to make crisis care a priority ahead of next May's Welsh elections in its manifesto, For Better Mental Health in Wales. Action is needed to ensure that anyone experiencing a mental health crisis has safe and speedy access to quality crisis care 24 hours a day, seven days a week, whatever the circumstances in which they first need help, regardless of where they turn to first.
You can see the manifesto here.