Bid to halve use of police cells for mental health patients

Published on Tuesday, 18 February 2014 09:46
Written by Govtoday staff

Emergency support for people in mental health crisis is set to see dramatic improvements across the country as part of a far-reaching new agreement between police, mental health trusts and paramedics.

The agreement – called the Crisis Care Concordat – has been signed by more than 20 national organisations in a bid to drive up standards of care for people experiencing crisis such as suicidal thoughts or significant anxiety.

The concordat, announced today by care and support minister Norman Lamb, will help cut the numbers of people detained inappropriately in police cells and drive out the variation in standards across the country.

The deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, said: "A mental health crisis can already be distressing for individuals and all those involved, but when people aren't getting the right support or care it can have very serious consequences. It's unacceptable that there are incidents where young people and even children can end up in a police cell because the right mental health service isn't available to them.

"That's why we're taking action across the country and across organisations to make sure those with mental health problems are receiving the emergency care they need.

"We want to build a fairer society – one where mental health is as important as physical health – and the Crisis Care Concordat is an important step towards addressing this disparity."

The concordat, which has already been signed by 22 organisations including NHS England, the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Royal College of Psychiatrists, sets out the standards of care people should expect if they suffer a mental health crisis and details how the emergency services should respond.

It challenges local services to make sure beds are always available for people who need them urgently and also that police custody should never be used just because mental health services are not available. It also stipulates that police vehicles should not be used to transfer patients between hospitals and encourages services to get better at sharing essential need-to-know information about patients which could help keep them and the public safe.

Norman Lamb, care and support minister, said: "When someone has a mental health crisis, it is distressing and frightening for them as well as the people around them. Urgent and compassionate care in a safe place is essential – a police cell should never need to be used because mental health services are not available. For me, crisis care is the most stark example of the lack of equality between mental and physical health.

"The NHS and police already work well together in some areas, but it is totally unacceptable that crisis mental health care is so variable across the country. It is imperative that all areas seek to implement the principles of the Concordat as quickly as possible to ensure consistent care, no matter where you live.

"Better care for people in mental health crises will not only help those living through their darkest hours to recover – it can also save lives."

Local areas will now sign their own regional and local agreements to commit to working together across services to improve care and potentially save lives.

The Crisis Care Concordat challenges local areas to make sure that:

  • Health-based places of safety and beds are available 24/7 in case someone experiences a mental health crisis.
  • Police custody should not be used because mental health services are not available and police vehicles should also not be used to transfer patients. We want to see the number of occasions police cells are used as a place of safety for people in mental health crisis halved compared 2011/12.
  • Timescales are put in place so police responding to mental health crisis know how long they have to wait for a response from health and social care workers. This will make sure patients get suitable care as soon as possible.
  • People in crisis should expect that services will share essential 'need to know' information about them so they can receive the best care possible. This may include any history of physical violence, self-harm or drink or drug history.
  • Figures suggest some black and minority ethnic groups are detained more frequently under the Mental Health Act. Where this is the case, it must be addressed by local services working with local communities so that the standards set out in the concordat are met.
  • A 24-hour helpline should be available for people with mental health problems and the crisis resolution team should be accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Minister for policing, criminal justice and victims, Damian Green, said: "The signing of the concordat is a demonstration of what can be achieved when people work together. From today each organisation will have a clear set of principles to follow and vulnerable people experiencing difficulties will be able to get the right help when and where they need it.

"In the past six months the government has made significant progress with the introduction of street triage pilots, which brings together police officers and mental health practitioners to allow for early intervention for vulnerable people. On top of this we are piloting schemes in which mental health nurses are stationed in police stations.

"There is obviously still some way to go, but these measures will ensure police officers can focus on fighting crime and helping people with mental health conditions get the care they need."

A recent independent inquiry by Mind highlighted not only wide variation in crisis care services across the country, but also that in some areas, round-the-clock provisions are inadequate. This prompted the Department of Health to review the way the emergency services and organisations like social services and work together. Mind will continue to help local areas meet the commitments of the concordat with a series of regional workshops. They will also work with the signatories to hold an annual summit to review progress.

It is vital that the principles of the concordat are taken up in all localities in England. To support take-up, the Department of Health will work in partnership with the Home Office and Mind to promote and support local responses. We expect each locality to have agreed a Mental Health Crisis Declaration by December 2014.

Source: Department of Health

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