The comments come as the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) report, published today examines the role of the police in relation to the use of Section 136 of the Mental Health Act.
This new report has brought to light that large numbers of vulnerable people are ending up in police cells, as temporary places of safety for people, after they have been arrested and are in need of health care.
The IPCC report shows that patients needing a medical assessment under the Mental Health Act are being held in police cells nearly twice as often as health-based settings as designated ‘places of safety’.
This is despite the Government’s commitment that all mental health trust in England should now have in place access to an appropriate health-based place of safety.
£100 million has been allocated by the Department of Health to increase the number of health based places of safety and improve intensive psychiatric units. The IPCC’s new report has revealed that staffing costs have not been taken into account and so places of safety have been built but are sitting empty as health trusts cannot afford to staff them. One newly built place of safety is currently being used as a stock room the IPCC report says.
Findings from the last census on inpatient care show that people from African Caribbean communities are 50% more likely to be referred to mental health services via the police than their white counterparts, despite having similar rates of mental ill health as any other ethnic group. This means the failures highlighted in this report will hit the black community hardest.
‘Being detained in a police cell would be a traumatic and highly distressing experience for anyone, the impact that this would have on someone who may be suffering from mental distress can only make matters worse.
The police are not trained to work with people needing mental health care and could misjudge an expression of distress or behavior when someone is in crisis. The recent tragic death of the former service user Sean Rigg, who lost his life while in police custody in August, makes it clear that police cells are not places of safety.
The lack of planning to ensure appropriate places are made available and adequately staffed is an indication of the priority services have given to the needs of one of the most vunerable groups in our society. There needs to be a public commitment at the highest level to ensure the most vunerable are not at the brunt of any organisations failings just because they do not have a voice,’ Matilda MacAttram director of Black Mental Health UK said.
‘Police cells are definitely not a place of safety, in fact they have the opposite effect. We have had a lot our men dying in police cells and the families have never had an answer as to why. To know that £100million has been allocated to create health based places of safety, but the places are still not available two years later shows that black people’s needs in particular are not being taken into account.
It’s very disturbing to hear the findings of this report as we know that the police aren’t trained to deal with people suffering from mental distress. We would be willing to work with anyone who needs advice on what is needed to set up appropriate and therapeutic places of safety. Jackie McClean, manager of Ominicare Community Mental Health Service said.
‘We know that black people, are going disproportionately overrepresented among people detained under a section 136. If £100 million has been allocated to ensure that the right services are in place but are not available, it shows a lack of commitment to get things done right in this area. I don’t know how long it will take for the inequalities in the treatment of minority groups is going to be addressed, and lives are being destroyed in the process. It is sad that in this day and age a police cell to be deemed a place of safety, it’s unfit for 21st century mental health service.
Most of us know someone who has been in that situation, when they were at their lowest ebb or responding to a trauma or bereavement in their lives. It happens a lot’, Alicia Spence manager of the African Caribbean Community Initiative said.
‘The majority of people subject to this are from minority communities, the last census on mental health care showed that people from African and African Caribbean communities are 50% more likely to enter mental health services via police referrals. The church is becoming increasingly concerned about this as we have seen many deaths of young men while in police custody and many more leaving these setting traumatized. It is a damning indictment to have £100million allocated to address this and yet not provide the safe places needed, it show that there is shows no respect or regard for people needing need this kind of care,’ Rev Pastor Desmond Hall, chair of Christian’s Together in Brent said.