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CCGs ‘failing in their duty’ to provide safe places for the mentally unwell

CCGs are not providing enough places of safety for the mentally unwell, leading to the scandal of police cells having to be used as a substitute, MPs have said.

The Home Affairs Committee has released a report into policing and mental health in which they conclude that CCGs are failing in their duty to provide enough health-based places of safety that are available 24/7.

The MPs say that CCGs must not only acknowledge local levels of demand and commission suitable health-based places of safety; they must also design local backup policies to deal with situations where places are occupied.

More “places of safety” in NHS hospitals need to be provided so the police are not forced into filling the gap.

Committee chair Keith Vaz MP said: "The prevalence of people with mental health illnesses in the criminal justice system is a scandal. It is unacceptable that the police should be filling the gap because the NHS does not have the facilities to look after mentally ill people.”

He pointed to the detention figures, over 6000 adults and 236 children held in cells under the Mental Health Act, saying they are far too high.

“These people are not criminals, they are ill and often are experiencing a great deal of trauma,” he said.

Dr Phil Moore, chair of NHS Clinical Cimmossioners Mental Health Commissioners Network and vice chair or NHS Kingston said: "CCGs are working hard to commission effective and quality mental health care. This report highlights that there is still much to do but commissioners are working in partnership with the voluntary sector, local authorities and providers to try to meet the needs of their mental health patients and their local populations."

The committee’s report says that four of the 11 people who died in police custody in 2013-14 were identified as having mental health concerns, and of those four, two had been taken to a police custody suite under mental health legislation. Both men had been restrained by the police through handcuffs and leg restraints.

The MPs also say that 45 of the 68 people who took their lives within two days of being released from police custody last year were reported to have had mental health concerns.

The committee calls for the Act to be amended so that police cells are no longer listed as a place of safety for those detained under Section 136.

The MPs believe that police also need to make sure they use their powers in relation to mental health correctly, to reduce the numbers detained and so reduce pressure on both the police and the NHS.

Vaz also highlights the impact of keeping mentally unwell people in cells has on police budgets.

He said: “The cost to policing budgets of police officers in custody suites having to deal with mentally ill people is huge. This puts enormous pressure on officers who are not suitably trained and is the starting point for those that are mentally ill to enter the criminal justice system. Many begin a journey which will eventually end in prison.”

In December home secretary Theresa May announced that she was issuing guidance so that from that point on no one under the age of 18 would be held in police cells if detained under the Mental Health Act. She said she plans to back this up with amendments to legislation after the election.

The Home Affairs report follows on the heels of CQC concerns that people who are being detained under the Mental Health Act are not having their legal rights being discussed or explained to them. The regulator is also concerned that they are not being fully assessed for their willingness and ability to consent to their treatment, and don’t always having easy access to appropriate independent advice.

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