In this post I want to talk about how the current Mental Health Act works in practice – and specifically a recent BBC story which Hafal contributed to concerning policing and mental health.
The police play an important part in the implementation of the Mental Health Act – for example, under Section 135 and 136 of the Act they can be required to take a person to a ‘place of safety’.
Dyfed-Powys Police Chief Constable Mark Collins spoke to the BBC about the demands mental health places upon police resources, saying that patients can occupy police officers for “10 to 12 hours” before doctors can make an assessment.
Mr Collins, who leads on mental health and policing for the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said officers should always respond in an emergency but should not be responsible for “lower level calls”.
I argued in my earlier post that what people with a mental illness need is the right to early treatment which prevents crisis and the subsequent use of a Section 136. Really the police are not equipped to deal with mental health issues as they are not a health service – but too often they are the only service which actually responds.
I was delighted to see my Hafal colleague Helen Bennett speaking to the BBC about a new trial which she has been involved with which puts two mental health nurses in the South Wales Police control room.
“They will be patched into calls, speak to officers who are out with individuals and they may well speak to those individuals as well,” Helen said.
“They will be assessing over the telephone and advising police officers. They also link in with crisis teams, community mental health teams, third sector charities and local authorities to make sure the outcome for the individual is a joined-up process.
“From the evidence of similar schemes across England, it’s been very successful. There has been a reduction in intervention from the police required.”
The South Wales Police trial has been organised by the police, local health boards, the Welsh Ambulance Service and local authorities – and this multi-agency approach is great.
We need more schemes like these across Wales. It’s essential that when people are experiencing a mental health crisis they have access to the appropriate support from a health service – and do not have to be engaged with a service designed to deal with criminal justice matters for any longer than is strictly necessary. Certainly not for 10 to 12 hours!
Of course, this doesn’t change the fact that what we need most of all are legal rights to timely assessment and treatment which prevent people from ending up in contact with the police and becoming subject to the Act.
Meanwhile triage schemes such as the South Wales Police pilot would certainly help people who have been detained to access the services and support they need.