Campaigners blast ‘shambles’ that has left safe detention places empty

Campaigners blast ‘shambles’ that has left safe detention places empty

Report claims vulnerable people are placed in police cells because there is no money to run purpose-built facilities

Last week’s Independent Police Complaints Commission report highlighted an “intolerable” use of police cells to detain people with mental health problems.

The IPCC found that people suffering distress in public places in England and Wales were twice as likely to be removed to police cells than hospitals in 2005-6.

National guidelines, under section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983, state police stations should be used only in exceptional circumstances while people are waiting for assessment.

But the report found a lack of appropriate alternatives to police cells meant the guidelines were not being put into practice.

Evidence suggests that things have not improved significantly since 2005-6, despite the Department of Health providing £130m so that every mental health trust could build appropriate places of safety.

Unused facilities

Campaigners pointed out that the DH provided only capital funding, and that some trusts have had to leave the new facilities empty because they do not have the money to run them.

The IPCC cited concerns from one local commissioner that the facilities in its area would become “white elephants” due to the lack of revenue funding for staff. Another place of safety was being used as a “store cupboard”, the report said.

Mind’s policy director, Sophie Corlett, said: “It’s a shambles thatthe funding does not extend to cover staffing costs and in some areas places of safety are standing empty.”

The report said the lowest rates of detention were often the result of excellent working relationships between police forces, NHS trusts and other agencies.

Phil Gormley, the Associ­ation of Chief Police Officers’ lead on mental health and disability, said: “Until there’s a comprehensive capacity across the country, we’re going to be dependent on multi-agency partnerships and goodwill.”

Corlett added: “Mental health services should be providing this and it’s because they’re not that police forces have to step in.”

When asked why the original investment in alternative places of safety did not include workforce revenue, a Department of Health spokesperson pointed to the significant uplift in NHS budgets in recent years. Revenue funding rose from £73bn to nearly £87bn from 2005-6 to 2007-8. The spokesperson added that trusts should work with partners to develop appropriate arrangements, using the increase in resources.

But Steve Shrubb, director of the NHS Confederation’s Mental Health Network, said: “It’s not as simple as being given capital funding and told to take the revenue from the uplift in the overall budget. That is not ringfenced money, and any chief executive will tell you there are lots of competing pressures on it.”

Empty shells

But he rejected the claims that the new facilities had become empty shells due to lack of staff.

“It’s not a useful comment and, as far as I’m aware, it’s just not true,” he said, adding that many NHS trusts were providing appropriate places of safety.

However, he said: “The report will serve as a wake-up call for trusts in areas which haven’t delivered.”

Changes in legislation may add flexibility to procedures, with the possibility of better outcomes for people being detained. The Mental Health Act 2007 will allow for the transfer of people from one place of safety to another, which the report says may reduce the time people spend in police custody.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists has led the development of new standards on the use of section 136 of the 1983 act, which will be published later this month.

Dr Michele Hampson, chair of the multi-agency group responsible for the new standards, said its proposals included establishing a single, nationally-agreed form for recording detentions for English and Welsh police forces. The move was backed by the IPCC in its report, alongside calls for the Healthcare Commission, to collate and assess annual data on the use of section 136.

Hampson said better monitoring was vital, adding: “Only then can we begin to improve standards of care for this vulnerable group of individuals.”

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External information

Mind – mental health and police issues

Cells were used twice as often as hospitals as places of safety in 2005-6

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