Concern over mental health detentions by police in Wales

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Media captionFigures obtained by BBC Wales showed a 32% increase in such detentions in the last year by South Wales Police

Calls have been made for a reduction in the number of people taken into police custody with mental health problems.

Figures obtained by BBC Wales showed a 32% increase in such "section 136" detentions in the last year by South Wales Police.

But North Wales Police saw an 80% drop after an agreement between police and doctors.

The South Wales Police and Crime Commissioner is to work with other forces to see what can be learned.

A Freedom of Information request by Radio Wales revealed that detentions made by South Wales Police under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983 rose from 533 in 2011/12 to 706 in 2012/13, a 32% increase.

The average stay in custody for those detained was nine hours.

Using estimates by the UK Centre for Mental Health that the average cost of each detention is nearly £1,800, it cost South Wales Police an extra £300,000 last year.

Elsewhere in Wales:

  • Dyfed Powys Police last year saw an 8% increase with added costs of £28,000
  • Gwent Powys saw an 8% decrease, resulting in a £20,000 saving
  • North Wales Police saw an 80% drop from 134 to 27, saving £198,000

The Mental Health Act stipulates that police cells are supposed to be a last resort.

However, a report in June by Her Majesty's Inspectorates of Constabulary and Prisons, the Care Quality Commission and Healthcare Inspectorate Wales said detention in police cells was far from exceptional.

Dr Willhelm Van Veenhuysen, chair of the forensic faculty with the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Wales, said custody was the worst possible place for someone with mental health issues.

He said police forces needed to look at the north Wales model.

Image caption North Wales Police say their agreement gets patients treatment faster

There, the force has an agreement with Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board (BCUHB) that those arrested under the Act would not be transported in police cars or housed in cells unless the individual is so dangerous authorities have no choice.

Dr Van Veenhuysen said: "People still end up being taken to custody suites when they should be taken to hospital, places of safety where they can have appropriate assessment and appropriate treatment."

He said custody for people with mental health problems should be "the exception rather than the rule".

South Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Alun Michael said the rise may in part be due to recent training that has led officers to recognise mental health issues and make more mental health arrests as opposed to criminal ones.

He said he was "very concerned about people ending up in a police cell when it isn't an appropriate place for them to be", as well as pressure on police trying to deal with mental health patients.

Mr Michael added: "Let's make sure we understand the problems before we rush to judgement and say what ought to happen next.

"What's absolutely clear though in the current situation, there are far too many people with mental health problems who end up in a police cell when that isn't where they should be located."

'Scary places'

Mr Michael said he would speak to other crime commissioners in Wales to see what South Wales Police could learn.

In 2012, North Wales Police and the BCUHB agreed every effort must be made to take patients to mental health units rather than custody.

Det Sgt Graham Opie, the force's lead on mental health policy, said police stations "are scary places for anybody who doesn't come into regular contact".

He said people with mental health problems "are people at a point of crisis and obviously need to be directed to relevant professionals".

On Monday, MPs will debate the records of British police forces in dealing with people with mental health problems.

It will be led by Madeleine Moon MP, who says she will refer to suicides in her Bridgend constituency.

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