Police cells as places of safety

As the collaboration of London’s 10 NHS trusts responsible for mental health services, we are well acquainted with the challenges facing crisis services in the capital and so we were interested to read Sir Ian Blair’s piece in the Guardian on the police picking up the pieces of mental health cuts.

The article says that police are using their powers under section 136 50% more than they did a decade ago. Yet, the Metropolitan Police Service’s latest figures show that the use of London police cells as places of safety has fallen to its lowest ever level. Between January and September 2016, police cells were used on average less than once per month, and in the last two months, no one in mental health crisis has been taken to a London police cell.

This is a direct result of the partnership between the Cavendish Square Group and the Metropolitan Police Service and is a huge achievement for London.

When Sir Ian writes that “announcing something is forbidden is not the same as providing an alternative”, he is right. However, he ignores the work done by us and the police service to provide an alternative; to ensure people are admitted, even when trusts are under pressure for space, and to allow officers to use their powers to help people in crisis get the right treatment in an appropriate, health-based setting.

The disparity in mental and physical health funding, and the strain on services it causes, is well-documented; ensuring mental health crisis services are well-funded and well-commissioned is among our top priorities. Continued investment in health-based places of safety remains a major concern, however for Sir Ian to write off the support already available as ‘inadequate’ and ‘unpredictable’ is to do our mental health trusts and the police an enormous disservice.

 

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