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Less demand on police if government accepts mental health review


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Disparity in mental health services a 'burning injustice' which must be 'put right', says Theresa May.


Demand placed on police picking up pieces of struggling mental health services could be alleviated if the government considers a shake-up in an “outdated” law, an official report said. 

The review of the Mental Health Act (MHA), commissioned by the Prime Minister, has called for police cells to stop being used as a place of safety by 2023/24, and for detainees in crisis to be transferred to a health care setting via ambulances only.

Not only will this ease pressure off police by ensuring mentally-ill people are transferred to healthcare professionals faster, but it will also be less traumatic for the detainee, the report said.

However, the government needs to provide more funding for mental health services to make this possible, according to the review.

It also recommends an amendment of Section 136 to allow a police officer to end detention in cases where it is clear a full MHA assessment is unnecessary.

Health staff must carry out an objective risk assessment process to determine when officers can leave, and where there are disagreements, the escalation process should include the police duty sergeant or inspector and an NHS manager working to reach agreement, it added.

A “disproportionate” number of black African or Caribbean detainees dying in custody should also prompt the College of Policing to update its Equality Improvement Model to include a “greater focus” on mental health and ethnic minority issues for forces to “demonstrate progress against equality objectives,” the report said.

It is also supporting the move towards custody suites being commissioned by NHS England with oversight and regulation from the Care Quality Commission – recommended in Dame Elish Angiolini’s report on serious incidents and deaths in custody.

These suggestions are now being considered by the government ahead of the creation of a new Mental Health Bill in the New Year.

Changes to legislation which will give mental health patients more control over their care have already been approved.

People will be able to nominate a person of their choice to be involved in decisions made about their care and can express their preferences for care and treatment.

Prime Minister Theresa May said: “The disparity in our mental health services is one of the burning injustices this country faces that we must put right.

“For decades it has somehow been accepted that if you have a mental illness you will not receive the same access to treatment as if you have a physical ailment. Well, that is not acceptable.

“I commissioned this review because I am determined to make sure those suffering from mental health issues are treated with dignity and respect, with their liberty and autonomy respected.

“By bringing forward this historic legislation – the new Mental Health Bill – we can ensure people are in control of their care, and are receiving the right treatment and support they need."

National Police Chiefs’ Council  lead for Mental Health, CC Mark Collins said: "We welcome the recommendations in the report following our close work with Sir Simon Wessely.

“People experiencing a mental health crisis are not criminals - they're unwell, vulnerable and often frightened. Police cars and police cells are no place for those who need medical support, and forces have worked to halve the number of instances where vulnerable people are kept in custody.

“Members of the public rightly want the police out fighting crime, and the recommendations in this report will ensure there is reduced demand on policing to respond to those who need a more appropriate form of care.”

Association of Police and Crime Commissioners mental health lead, Matthew Scott , said: “People experiencing mental ill health need the right care from the right person at the right time. That also means the right place.

“And whilst police officers will and do always do their best to help, this care is better provided in a health setting not a police cell, and by trained professionals not police officers.

“Members of the public rightly want the police out fighting crime, not picking up the pieces for other agencies.

“I hope that with these reforms, and the extra investment the government is putting into crisis services, we can get people the care they need and reduce demand on policing.”

Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, said: "This outdated legislation has seen thousands of people experience poor, sometimes appalling, treatment, who still live with the consequences to this day. We are pleased to see that many of our concerns – and those of the people we represent and have supported to feed into the review – have been heard.”

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