Almost 4,000 people detained under the Mental Health Act are still being forced to stay in police cells rather than a hospital, despite a 54 per cent fall over the last three years.

  • Data shows falling number of police cell detentions for mental health patients
  • Crisis care concordat plans hailed a success by DH
  • New targets and investment planned to improve services

According to data from the Department of Health and the National Police Chiefs’ Council, the number of people detained in police cells under the Mental Health Act in England fell from 8,667 in 2011-12 to 6,028 in 2013-14. It then fell again to 3,996 in 2014-15.

The government has made clear it wants to end the practice of using police cells as an alternative for people suffering a mental health crisis when a mental health service inpatient bed is unavailable.

Under section 136 of the act, police can detain someone they believe may have a mental disorder, and who may cause harm to themselves or others. They should be taken to a safe place where a mental health assessment is then carried out.

Alistair Burt

People experiencing a mental health crisis should be treated with the same urgency as other patients, Alistair Burt said

Health minister Alistair Burt said: “Having a mental illness is not a crime. Anyone experiencing a mental health crisis should be treated with the same urgency and compassion as someone with a broken leg, rather than ending up in a police cell.

“Too often this has not been the case but every part of the country is working hard to change that. I’m proud of these results and I’m determined to build on this further so that everyone in crisis gets the care they need in the right place at the right time.”

The DH said the decrease in people being detained in police cells was a sign that its national programme of improving crisis care, the Crisis Care Concordat, was improving care.

Under the concordat, local plans are agreed between mental health trusts, local councils and police services.

Plans should include:

  • the provision of health based places of safety 24 hours a day, seven days a week;
  • the end of police detention when mental health beds are not available; and
  • a 24 hour helpline for people with mental health problems with crisis team responses available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

According to the DH, these plans have meant 9,350 people have been helped by street triage teams run by police and mental health trusts in nine areas. Seventeen more areas are planning to set up similar services.

The department has also said all 10 ambulance trusts have signed up to treat mental health crisis as emergencies, which requires a 30 minute response time where police have been first on the scene.

Home secretary Theresa May announced £15m would be spent in 2016-17 to develop new health based places of safety. However, HSJ revealed this investment will come from existing money and will last for only one year, leaving local commissioners with responsibility to fund services in the long term.

A Home Office spokesman said: “These figures show encouraging progress is being made by forces and their health partners across England, but in some areas there is still a long way to go to improve outcomes for people with mental health needs.”