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Custody sergeants in legal dilemma over lack of hospital beds


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Thousands of mental health patients are being detained beyond the legal period.

Custody sergeants in legal dilemma over lack of hospital beds

Forces are making decisions to hold people with mental health issues in custody beyond the statutory maximum due to difficulties accessing hospital beds.

As a result custody sergeants are stuck with a difficult legal dilemma.

Under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act they are obligated to release suspects once decisions are taken about the alleged offence or after 24 hours in custody, but they cannot continue to detain someone who is unwell unless an approved mental health professional has completed a legal application under the Mental Health Act.

Hampshire Police Federation chairman John Apter, who recently witnessed a detained mental health patient being held in police officer’s rest area due to a lack of hospital places, told Police Oracle: “This crisis have been going on for a number of years, only in recent times the government is taking notice.

“We are working more closely with social services and the NHS on the deeper issue.

“People are being detained under the Mental Health Act and they are sitting in station restrooms whilst waiting for hours and hours. Time and time again I hear around the county there are no beds available, usually out of office hours.”

Mr Apter added there needs to be a clearer direction in law and there must be consequences if failure to deliver as they are "just covering and papering over the cracks.”

“Agencies need to take a long hard look because officers are having to take up the slack and have to pick up the pieces,” he added.

“This is a real serious issue and it just can’t go on.”

A College of Policing review of  21 police forces found 264 cases involved the police feeling obliged to keep someone safe by holding them in custody beyond the period allowed by custody law because of delays in finding a hospital bed.

But this is likely to be a fraction of the real picture.

NPCC lead for mental health, Chief Constable Mark Collins said: “Police officers have a duty to ensure that anyone brought into custody facing a mental health crisis is directed to a medical professional as soon as possible – it is a real concern that this is not happening quickly enough in potentially thousands of cases and each case potentially represents a violation of that person’s fundamental human rights.

“This is a legal problem that is emerging more frequently across the country so we want to work closely with the statutory regulator the Care Quality Commission to collect more accurate data and secure timely admission for people when they need it most.”

View On Police Oracle

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