Big rise in mental health detentions by police

Almost 2,000 people were detained under the Mental Health Act by Greater Manchester Police last year – including dozens of children.

Tuesday, 29th October 2019, 9:06 am
People are "sectioned" for their own protection

Police officers say under-funding of mental health services across England and Wales means more of their time and resources are being spent on helping people in the grip of mental health crises.

Home Office figures show GMP detained 1,978 people under the Mental Health Act in the 12 months to March, 64 of whom were under 18. The total figure was an increase of 13 per cent on the previous year, when 1,745 people were detained.

The national rise was by 12 per cent.

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The Act gives police the power to take people to a place of safety for up to 72 hours if they appear to be suffering from mental health problems and need immediate care, or if they are a risk to themselves or others.

Vicki Nash, head of policy and campaigns at mental health charity Mind, said the figures backed up their recent findings that access to mental health services was declining.

She said: “This is stark evidence that something is wrong with our mental health system. The NHS and Government need to prioritise mental health and deliver on the promises made in recent years.

“Detentions under the Act will only start reducing once people have access to high quality, culturally relevant and timely mental health care at the point they need it.”

A report published last year by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire Services warned of an “intolerable burden” being placed on officers, who were being left to pick up the pieces of a broken mental health system.

John Apter, chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said the increase in detentions did not come as a surprise.

He said: “It cannot be right that officers are again scooping up where other agencies are unable to provide – through no fault of their own – services that are so obviously needed.

“This vulnerable section of our community need to be afforded the proper care and attention that welfare services should be providing. They are patients not prisoners.”

Ms Nash said she was also concerned at the increase in people being taken to hospital in a police vehicle.

“This is completely inappropriate for someone in a mental health crisis, who will need support and compassion, not to be treated like a criminal,” she said.

The figures also show that GMP used police vehicles to transport mental health detainees 664 times in 2018-19. The most common recorded reason for doing so was because the person’s behaviour was thought to pose a risk.

Officers failed to record the reason for using police vehicles on a 140 occasions (21 per cent), despite being required to do so. On a further 112 occasions, an ambulance was not available within 30 minutes.

A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “We know the police are dealing with a high number of mental health incidents, so we are working with them and our health and social care partners to relieve the burden on officers and ensure people in a mental health crisis receive the support they need. We’re investing £2.3bn a year by 2023-24 to transform mental health care.”