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Mental Health: Police Custody

Volume 704: debated on Wednesday 15 October 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What are the implications for mental health services of the Independent Police Complaints Commission report Police Custody as a “Place of Safety”: Examining the Use of Section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983.

My Lords, the Government have made it clear that police stations should be used only exceptionally as a place of safety. The IPCC report does indeed suggest that, in many areas, considerable further work is required. That means that, locally, mental health services must work in partnership with the police and other agencies to ensure that effective alternatives to police custody for people detained under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act are available.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. It is clear that police stations continue to be used as a principal place of safety for lengthy periods of time and contrary to all the guidelines, at considerable cost to the welfare of those detained and the valuable time of the police. Is the Minister aware that in Nottinghamshire, for example, the time involved was more than 6,000 officer hours costing in excess of £136,000 last year? Will she tell the House what steps Her Majesty’s Government will take to require NHS trusts to provide adequate funding and staffing for reception centres for people detained under Section 136?

My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate for his Question; he asked a similar Question in June. There have been two reports highlighting the need for further progress in this area: the IPCC report already referred to and a publication by the Royal College of Psychiatrists. The IPCC report refers to figures in 2005-06. Since then, we have issued new guidance and made funding available to develop NHS facilities locally. This also shows that it is possible to make the use of police stations an exception, but the key to success is to plan and develop services to meet those needs in conjunction with local partners.

I suggest to the right reverend Prelate that this may point to some need for greater co-ordination in Nottinghamshire. Given his interest, I can think of just the person to lead that co-ordination. There is no doubt that the IPCC report makes a valuable contribution to this debate. I undertake to ensure that my honourable friend the new Minister, Phil Hope, has these reports drawn to his attention.

My Lords, declaring an interest as the Minister who took the 1983 Act through this House, does the Minister think that publishing guidelines and advice is sufficient? Declaring an interest as the Minister who took the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 through this House, are more vigorous means not needed to ensure that the money is spent to produce places of safety outside police cells when this section is implemented? Will the Minister ask her colleagues to consider ensuring that the police are adequately trained in the difficult art of identifying and separating madness from inebriation and whether the duration of 72 hours is not excessive?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord and bow to his greater experience in these matters. He points to some very important issues. In January this year the guidance was reinforced. A national training package for custody officers was published precisely to help them to recognise those people coming into police custody who need help. Our aim is to help prevent and minimise harm to those who come into contact with the police and who need help. Seventy-two hours is a maximum. It is always possible that 72 hours will be the maximum period and that people will remain in custody for less time than that, as we would wish.

My Lords, without the collection of data at the centre, how will the Government know when their policy has been implemented? At the moment, no data are collected on this section compared with any other section of the Mental Health Act. Does the Minister agree that the Government would have better knowledge of the implementation of the policy if data on it were collected at the centre?

My Lords, our revised code of practice to the Mental Health Act makes clear that locally agreed policies should include arrangements for monitoring how, in what circumstances and with what outcomes Section 136 is being used locally. This has been reinforced by the recommendations in the IPCC report. We will continue to collect national statistics on the number of people detained in hospital under Section 136.

My Lords, what safeguards have the Government put in place to ensure that Section 136 is not used disproportionately in respect of people from black and ethnic minorities?

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that question. We know that there are inequalities in the incidence and prevalence of mental health illness between some of the BME communities and in the way in which those people experience mental health services. We made clear in the revised code of practice that local agencies need to monitor the way that Section 136 is used in their areas, including its use in respect of people from black and ethnic minority communities. We are also collecting data on the ethnicity of people detained under Section 136 in NHS hospitals through our national mental health minimum data set. In time we will be able to report on that more fully.

My Lords, what progress is being made to ensure that children are not being inappropriately detained in adult mental health centres? If this was the case, and it was remedied, it would presumably make space for those detained under Section 136.

My Lords, I do not have details on children with regard to Section 136, but I undertake to investigate that and write to the noble Baroness because she raises a very important point.

My Lords, will the department support pilot programmes by GP practices to identify people who are at risk of being detained under Section 136 and to divert them from Section 136 suites?

My Lords, the investment that the Government have put into local GP practices and mental health services aims to provide services at a local level which will divert people from Section 136 suites and, indeed, from presenting themselves to the police. I think that 740 teams have been set up, of which a large proportion aim to provide at-home services in precisely the fashion that the noble Baroness mentioned.

My Lords, while the Minister and the Government are collecting data, could they also discover how many people with mental health problems have an originating learning disability?

My Lords, that is one of the things the Royal College of Psychiatry is suggesting. The pilot that it is conducting of forms that collect information will address that issue. We wait with interest to see what that produces.