Too much police time wasted in A&E

09 March 2017

Some police officers have reported spending up to 80 per cent of their time on some shifts waiting at hospitals while potentially vulnerable detainees are assessed at busy A&E departments. A recent HMIC inspection found that waits of six to eight hours for officers in these cases are not uncommon – equating to an additional 62,000 hours a year.

The issues surrounding health and wellbeing in custody – both physical and mental – are a prominent concern for custody officers, but a lack of beds in hospitals has often led to police cells being used as a “place of safety” for patients with mental health concerns. A number of issues this year have been reported where officers have acted in the best interests of detainees but have found themselves facing long waits at Accident & Emergency departments.

One officer said: “Over the course of four shifts on immediate response, I have probably spent around 80 per cent of my time either on NHS premises or waiting for an ambulance. I have taken two vulnerable individuals from custody to the local hospital, only to be greeted by a queue of ambulances waiting to handover and an average time of one hour to see a triage nurse followed by four to five hours to see a doctor.”

This is not an isolated case, though. Another officer described this as a “huge issue”. In that case, the officer was dealing with a patient with a brain infection who was being aggressive, disruptive and assaulting staff. With no bed available, she was instead put on a medical assessment ward, and two officers stayed with her for two hours, coaxing her into a compliant state so that she would take her medication and allow staff to treat her.
The officer added: “It sometimes feels as though we are the go-to free 'bank staff' at the hospital for mental health and security. There are ridiculous waiting times in A&E and the staff in the suite are terrified to let officers leave because they never seem to have enough staff to monitor the patients they have.”

Andy Ward, Police Federation of England and Wales’ lead on custody, says that these issues are of big concern – and believes the NHS needs to be better supported: “We fully support the need for NHS departments to be properly resourced,” he said. “There is a need for police custody officers to have access to appropriate healthcare professionals 24/7 – the responsibility for which lies with chief officers.”

Read the full article in POLICE magazine.