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Following Home Secretary Theresa May's recent address at The Policing and Mental Health Summit, we examine what the next couple of years are likely to hold for the provision of mental healthcare for those in custody. 

It has been five years since The Bradley Report, yet as Theresa May points out, there are many issues the criminal justice system finds hard to confront and mental health is one of those. We couldn’t agree more that the police should not have the responsibility of dealing with those people with mental health issues. People have often reached crisis point already when detained under Section 135 or 136.

Not surprisingly, 2013 saw Lord Adebowale report that in the Metropolitan Police Service, mental health issues account for at least 20% of police time. Alarmingly, in 2013 a Health and Social Care Information Centre also showed that during 2012/13 three quarters of people were taken to a health facility by a police vehicle rather than medical transport. 
The findings are concerning, despite the fact that there’s many great schemes and treatment plans now underway. Police officers working alongside mental health professionals in emergency situations is a good start though.

Already, a triage pilot scheme is running in 9 policing areas across the UK. This ensures that a mental health practitioners works directly with the police during incidents that could result in a Section 136. 

We’re pleased to hear that early indications, according to the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), show the pilots are working. The number of those detained under Section 136 is reported to have fallen by an average 25% across all pilot areas. 

Being involved in the recruitment of mental health practitioners, it is very encouraging, albeit only part of the solution. We believe, as will many of the people we recruit, that there needs to be a direct correlation with the government’s Crisis Care Concordat. Published in February this year, the concordat outlined plans to improve care for people in crisis. This includes providing the relevant support to help them avoid reaching crisis point in the first place, aiding their recovery and keeping them well following treatment. This will ultimately involve a lot more collaborative work across various agencies, and not just the criminal justice system. 

Of course, with a greater emphasis being placed on mental health professionals dealing directly with those coming into contact with the criminal justice system, there needs to be an increase in resources.  This is highlighted by the Care Quality Commission’s report on 22nd October 2014 showing that a quarter of health providers say there are not enough health-based places of safety for the number of people requiring a place. 

This is a catch 22 situation and one that we hope is fully considered in the expected review of Sections 135 and 136 of the Mental Health Act.

Also, HMIC has been tasked with inspecting the welfare of vulnerable people in police custody, including those with mental health issues. We’ll report back on the results of this report once the MoJ announces the findings expected at the end of March 2015. 
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