6. What steps she is taking to improve the approach of the police to working with people with mental health problems. (906748)
We have taken a number of significant steps in this area: we have launched schemes including street triage, and liaison and diversion; we have reviewed the Mental Health Act 1983; and we have introduced an agreement supported by more than 20 partners nationally to improve the way the police and their partners deal with people with mental health problems. Police cells are now being used less frequently as a place of safety, and I am pleased to say that our work is already having an impact.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for pointing out that of course this matter has a different relevance in relation to Wales and the Welsh health authorities. We are working on health and policing with the Welsh Government, Welsh PCCs and the chief constables to spread best practice, but I am pleased to say that, through the non-devolved police aspects of this national work programme, funding from the Home Office innovation fund is supporting a pilot triage scheme in Dyfed-Powys—the first such initiative in Wales. It is another example of the benefits of PCCs, because it has been championed by Chris Salmon, the PCC there.
I wish you a happy new year, Mr Speaker.
Plymouth’s Charles Cross police station reputedly has England’s busiest custody suite. Does my right hon. Friend have any plans to locate a community mental health nurse at Charles Cross to help people with mental health and autistic challenges?
As my hon. Friend will know, the provision of mental health nurses in police custody suites is a local issue, but I am pleased to tell him that from April 2015 NHS England will commission liaison and diversion services across Devon and Cornwall, including in Charles Cross police station, and that will provide people in police custody who may have mental health issues and autistic challenges with access to mental health nursing.
It is clearly good news that the number of people detained overnight in police stations under the Mental Health Act has been reduced by 25% in the past year alone. Clearly, it is important that individuals who are ill need to be treated medically, rather than be detained in police stations. What further action can my right hon. Friend take to ensure that people who are ill receive the medical treatment they require?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing out the success of the work already being done across the country, including in London, to reduce the number of people with mental health problems who are being held in a police cell as a place of safety. Police cells should only ever be used as a place of safety for somebody with mental health problems in exceptional circumstances. We are encouraging police forces across the country to look at the success of the triage schemes that have already been undertaken and take on board the very good practice which is having a beneficial effect for those with mental health problems and for police resources.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that a police cell should not be a place of safety for a child with mental health problems—we are very clear about that. That is one issue that has emerged from the review we have undertaken, with the Department of Health, of sections 135 and 136 of the Mental Health Act, and I am clear that in future we should not see children being held in a police cell as a place of safety when they have mental health problems.
Some 1,600 acute beds in mental health facilities have been lost on this Government’s watch. What assessment has the Home Secretary made at local level about beds being available for people who actually need them? Does she really think it is acceptable that in some cases people are having to travel up to 200 miles to access a crisis bed? Is that not why people are ending up in police cells, rather than in mental health crisis beds where they should be?
Under this Government we are seeing a significant change in the way in which people with mental health problems are being dealt with by both the police and the NHS: it is this Government who have reviewed sections 135 and 136 of the Mental Health Act; it is this Government who have introduced the street triage pilots, whereby more and more people are being taken to proper places of safety in health care settings rather than being put in police cells; and it is this Government who have put mental health clearly on the agenda in relation to health matters—unlike the Labour Government.
Police officers locally tell me that because of the cuts they are being used far too frequently as the service of last resort because the other services are just not there to step into the breach. Distressed family members have come to me when they are worried about the behaviour of their relatives, who they fear might harm themselves or someone else, but they really do not want to go to the police. What is the Home Secretary doing to ensure that the police are absolutely used only as a last resort and that other agencies are there to step in?
The situation in which the police were being used as a first resort rather than a last resort—particularly for those with mental health problems—carried on year after year under the previous Labour Government with no action being taken. This Government have introduced the street triage pilots, the liaison and diversion services, and the care crisis concordat, which has been signed up to by 20 national bodies and which is having a real impact out on the streets. We have more to do in this area and we will be doing more. The number of people with mental health problems taken to a police cell as a place of safety has fallen, and it has fallen as a result of the action that we have taken.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement that, under sections 135 and 136 of the Mental Health Act, police cells should not be used for children. In our inquiry into policing and mental health, the Home Affairs Committee heard distressing evidence from families and guardians of young people with mental health problems taken into police cells. Will the Secretary of State consult those families and guardians on how policing of mental health for children can be improved as a matter of urgency?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right and I am happy, as is my right hon. Friend the Minister responsible for policing, to ensure that we do more of what we are already doing, which is talking to people who have experienced this problem at first hand and therefore gaining more understanding of the issue. This matter has been addressed not only by the Home Affairs Committee but by the Health Committee, under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston), which has produced a report making exactly that point about young people. It said that children should not be taken to police cells as a place of safety when they have mental health problems.