Stop using police cells for those experiencing mental health-related emergencies

If you’d just had a heart attack you’d never be held in a custody

Related Topics

Imagine you’ve suffered a mental health crisis. The last place you’d want to be is locked in a police cell when you’re feeling confused or desperate. It’s care and compassion you need, not custody, yet too many people with mental health issues are still being detained just for being ill.

The official line from the Home Office is that police stations should be a last resort if someone is at risk of harming themselves. They should really be taken to a hospital, not to a place for keeping criminals off the streets until they face a magistrate.

I accept that custody is being used less, but nearly 8,000 times a year is still unacceptably high, given that we know that many held there should be supported elsewhere.

If you’d just experienced a physical health crisis, a heart attack for example, you’d never be held in a police cell. If these were stroke victims, we would be rightly appalled. It just double underlines why mental health needs to be given parity of esteem with physical health.

Another cause for concern is the overall rise in detentions under mental health laws, up by four percent in a year to 54,000. Six months ago, I chaired a review into how the Metropolitan police deal with members of the public suffering from mental health problems. The Independent Commission on Mental Health and Policing highlighted the need for appropriate care for vulnerable people who are held in custody and for no one to be transferred to hospital in a police van.

We called for fewer but much better-resourced, clinically-led centres with staff who are highly trained and can support the police in emergencies. It would be unrealistic to expect our report to have led to a reversal yet of any of the figures I’ve quoted. However, it does show our recommendations need to be acted on as a matter of urgency.

For the situation to change, we have to ask some tough questions. Why are more people ending up in hospital with mental health issues and why are some finding themselves in police cells or the back of police van when they haven’t committed a crime? I’m not saying there are no cases where people haven’t broken the law. But placing people in custody who haven’t offended is unacceptable.

I know from talking to NHS chief executives that welfare reforms are partly to blame for more people being admitted in distress. Threats to cut sickness support are putting the most vulnerable in society under tremendous stress. This is especially true in places like Brighton and London which have a high proportion of people on benefits as a result of mental ill health.

I’d also question what mental health trusts are doing to provide adequate support.

I’d question what efforts we have made in terms of appropriate accommodation.

Hundreds of mental health beds have closed in recent years – some due to a welcome, increased focus on community support – but this has put pressure on the system which means those in crisis are not always receiving the support they need, as quickly as they need, sometimes with devastating consequences.

The truth is that the police are too often being used as a last, or rather first, resort because other services aren’t doing their job or are underfunded.

Norman Lamb’s response has been to roll out police triage teams where a mental health nurse goes out with the police. This is a good thing - but only a partial solution to a bigger problem. The pilots, which started in Leeds and Newham, need to be rolled out countrywide.

Getting attitudes to shift towards mental health is not going to be easy. But treating people with dignity and respect should be the first priority.

Lord Victor Adebowale is chief executive of national health and social care provider Turning Point

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Ecommerce Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity is available to ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service / Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This world leading specialist i...

Recruitment Genius: Regional Support Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This role's responsibility also include operat...

Recruitment Genius: Field Engineer - Northern Home Counties

£27000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Their revenue and profit have g...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A banner supporting the NO vote in the upcoming referendum hangs from the offices of the Greek Finance Ministry on Wednesday  

Greece crisis: The Troika’s inflexibility on austerity amounts to nothing short of an attempted coup

Caroline Lucas
Chancellor George Osborne will present his post-election budget on 8th July (Getty)  

Osborne’s Budget will touch on social reform – but he’s no Lloyd George

Donald Macintyre
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy