Care Minister, and Lib Dem MP, Norman Lamb / Getty Images

Care minster Norman Lamb wants to stamp out the practise

Holding children with mental health problems in police cells should be a “never event”, the care minster Norman Lamb has said.

The practice was strongly criticised by MPs earlier this month, amid evidence that a shortage of beds in mental health hospitals is leaving authorities with little choice.

New figures released by the Department of Health reveal that some progress is now being made, with a 24 per cent drop in cases so far this year.

Mr Lamb said that it was not acceptable for under 18s suffering a mental health problem to be held at a police station.

“I want to stamp this out for good,” he said. “Some areas are already leading the way but others have work to do and this week I’ve written to them with a personal appeal for action.”

In Avon and Somerset, only seven cases have been reported so far this year, compared to 419 cases last year, the Department of Health said, while Thames Valley has cut cases from 268 last year to 64 so far this year.

Lucie Russell, director of campaigns for the charity YoungMinds, said: “Being locked in a police cell will make young people feel they have done something terribly wrong on top of suffering extreme distress. It’s completely inappropriate that this practice continues anywhere, and it puts an enormous amount of pressure on the police who should not be responsible for holding mentally ill young people. We hope this never event becomes a reality as soon as it possibly can.”