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The deaths of hundreds of people with mental health problems while detained in prison, by police or in psychiatric hospitals could have been avoided, according to a new report.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission's investigation points to problems in communication, a repeated failure to learn from past mistakes and inappropriate detention of people with mental health problems in police cells as factors contributing to avoidable deaths.
Vicki Nash, Head of Policy & Campaigns at the mental health charity Mind, said:
"We welcome the attention that this report brings to the worrying number of people with mental health problems who lose their lives in preventable circumstances while being detained. While we know that services are making progress in better supporting people when they are detained through the Crisis Care Concordat, which Mind is co-delivering, there is still much to do.
"For the lessons of these tragic deaths to truly be learnt it is vital that we see the introduction of robust, meaningful and independent investigations in all settings where detention of people with mental health problems takes place, as well as real investment in preventing them happening in the future.
"Mind has long been concerned about the stark contrast between the procedures which follow deaths of people with mental health problems detained in prisons or police custody and those that follow a death in a mental healthcare setting. While ‘non-natural’ deaths in the former are investigated immediately, those in a healthcare setting lack genuine independence and can leave bereaved families largely in the dark until an inquest takes place.
"The aim, of course, is to avoid ‘non-natural’ deaths in these settings all together, which will only be achieved through early intervention, adequate crisis care services and ensuring that patients are listened to. However, when things do go wrong, the need for a robust investigation process which ensures mistakes are learnt from is crucial."