Health service 'must look after all mental health patients'

06 February 2015

Ministers must do more to ensure the health service properly looks after people suffering mental health problems instead of leaving it to police officers, the Police Federation has warned.

A report published today (Friday, 6 February) by the Home Affairs Select Committee stated that section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983 should be altered so that police cells are not designated as places of safety.

It added that NHS clinical commissioning groups are 'failing in their duty to provide enough health-based places of safety that are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and are adequately staffed'.

Doug Campbell, mental health lead for the Police Federation of England and Wales, welcomed the report but warned it echoed a proposed legislative change which would still see some adults suffering from mental health problems looked after in police cells.

Mr Campbell said: ‘Police cells are no place for the mentally ill and police officers are not the right people to look after those with mental health problems. We have been saying for years that this is an issue for the National Health Service and we are pleased that the Home Affairs Select Committee has reinforced this view.

‘Training of police officers is important so they can do their best to deal with people suffering from mental health problems but just as you would not expect a doctor to run a complex police investigation, police officers can never be an adequate replacement for medical staff. And police cells are not an adequate replacement for medical facilities.'

He added: ‘We are concerned, however, that the report has backed legislative proposals by the Home Office and Department of Health that those aged 18 and over who are in mental health crisis can go to police cells for a maximum of 24 hours in exceptional circumstances.

'Safe management of people in mental health crisis is a medical emergency whatever the circumstance. It is not right for either young people or adults in mental health crisis to be kept in police cells. A mental health crisis is a medical emergency, whether a person is 17, 18, 30 or 65 and the health agencies must give them appropriate treatment rather than handing their care over to the police service.

‘The government and health service should put more effort into protecting patients and remove the pressure on an already overstretched police service to deal with the failings, as highlighted in the HASC report, of the provision of mental health services for patients in crisis.

‘That said, we believe the report assists greatly in advising partner agencies what to expect of each other in this important area of public safety.’