The Care Quality Commission (CQC), the health regulator, has today launched a map that shows huge variation in access to health-based places of safety for people detained by police.
Police have powers to detain people under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act and take them to a ‘place of safety’ to be assessed by an Approved Mental Health Professional. The place of safety is supposed to be health-based, such as in a hospital, but in 2012/13, more than a third of people detained under Section 136 ended up in a police cell.
A report last year by the CQC and other bodies found that one of the most common reasons police custody was used as a place of safety was a lack of health-based alternatives.
The CQC surveyed mental health trusts earlier this year about provision of health-based places of safety and found that across England there are 161 health-based places of safety. The map created by CQC shows where they are and gives details of opening times, the areas they serve, their capacity, and the age groups they accept.
The map shows that some areas, such as the North West and Greater London, have several health-based places of safety available. However, in many other parts of the country provision is much patchier and some counties have capacity for just one person.
Sophie Corlett, Director of External Relations at Mind said:
"The CQC’s map reveals for the first time just how varied access to health-based places of safety is in England. While some areas seem well-served, it is shameful that elsewhere entire counties have capacity for only one person at a time. No wonder a third of people detained under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act end up in a police cell. This is a wake-up call for Clinical Commissioning Groups, who urgently need to look at whether the services they provide are sufficient to ensure people get the help they need in an appropriate environment.
"Someone in a mental health crisis is acutely unwell, frightened and confused, possibly suicidal, harming themselves or in a state of psychosis. The police are often the first to come into contact with people in crisis and, if they think someone may need to be ‘sectioned’, they must have ready access to a safe place to take them for assessment. This should be a health-based setting but too often police cells are used routinely because there aren’t sufficient alternatives. A police cell is not the right environment for someone in crisis and should only be used in ‘exceptional’ circumstances. Putting someone in a cell often makes people far more distressed and may even leave them feeling as though they are being punished for being unwell.
“The Mental Health Crisis Care Concordat, launched in February, recognises the huge gaps in services for people in mental health crisis and sets out how all local services should work together better. The CQC’s data reinforces why the Concordat is so important. There are excellent examples of crisis care in England but in too many places provision is patchy and people don’t get the help they need. We need to see local services adopting the Concordat and ensuring the right care and support for everyone in mental health crisis, no matter where they live.”
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