PCC Sue Mountstevens says putting mentally ill in cells 'Dickensian'

Sue Mountstevens
Image caption Sue Mountstevens said putting mentally ill people in police cells is "Dickensian"

Putting mentally ill people suspected of no crime in police cells is "Dickensian", a Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) has said.

PCC Sue Mountstevens, from Avon and Somerset, said, from June, the practice would be used only "in exceptional circumstances".

She said co-ordinated work would be done with hospitals and social workers.

Avon and Somerset Police said up to half its daily business was mental health-related and more should be done.

Ms Mountstevens said changing the policy was "absolutely the right thing to do".

Officers 'not nurses'

"I have been working on this with our partners, for what feels like years and years, about taking someone [into a police cell] who is suffering from a mental illness, who has committed no crime," she said.

"And we should never be taking them into police cells. It's Dickensian that we're still doing this and that has to stop."

She also stressed that officers "are not nurses".

"They are not psychiatrically trained and we need to work with our partners in health to be able to those experts in to helping those officers make those decisions which are very critical," Ms Mountstevens explained.

The force is also running a street triage project at Bridewell police station in Bristol, which involves a mental health nurse monitoring calls as they come in.

Image caption Mental health nurse Rebecca Aston works with police on relevant cases

Rebecca Aston, from Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust, who is in charge of the triage team, said the workload "depended on what's reported over the airwaves".

"If the police officers felt they needed a fuller assessment, we would attend," she said.

An Avon and Somerset Police spokesman said up to 50% of its daily business was linked to mental health issues.

"That could be people going missing because of mental health problems, people running out of hospitals because they're not seen because of mental health problems or people in the community who should be getting more help and somehow it's failed for them," he said.

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