Police stations will no longer be able to be used as ‘places of safety’ for children and young people experiencing mental health crisis under proposed government reforms.
This week, home secretary, Theresa May, is set to announce a joint Home Office and Department of Health review of sections 135 and 136 of the Mental Health Act, which will also recommend police cells are used only as a place of safety for adults when their behaviour is so extreme they cannot be managed elsewhere.
In addition, it will be recommended that the maximum length of detention of someone in mental distress is reduced from 72 to 24 hours.
Current guidance states that police cells must only be used to detain children and young people in mental health crisis in exceptional circumstances, yet in 2012/13 45% of all children and young people detained under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act – 263 – were detained in police cells.
Professor Sir Simon Wessely, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, welcomed the proposal, but noted that extra resources are needed to ensure this becomes a reality.
“Given that children and young people detained under Section 136 often present with complex social, medical and mental health needs, it is essential that resources are immediately put in place to ensure health based places of safety are available to meet this breadth of need.
“Crisis care services for children and young people are currently poorly developed in comparison to adults and a recent study found that only 40% of child and adolescent mental health services have crisis care pathways in place.
“In the absence of available health based places of safety for children, there is a real danger that the threshold for accessing these services will increase, leaving children experiencing a mental health crisis and in urgent need of support unable to access appropriate care.
“We therefore call on government to prioritise investment in crisis care services for children and young people and for NHS England, clinical commissioning groups and social services to ensure that adequate emergency care pathways are in place as a matter of urgency.”
Brian Dow, director of external affairs at charity Rethink Mental Illness, added that the charity was: “deeply concerned that without proper investment in child and adolescent mental health services, young people will continue to be failed by the system.”
He added that changing the law to ban police cells as a place of safety along won’t fix the problem. “The real issue is that there simply aren’t enough suitable services available for children and young people. We also need significantly more funding for young people’s mental health services. Everyone, including children and young people, should have safe and speedy access to quality crisis care 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“Local decision-makers also need to put much more investment in preventative mental health care, such as Early Intervention in Psychosis services, which play a crucial role in helping young people avoid reaching a crisis point in the first place. Mental illness accounts for 23% of the total impact of ill health in the UK, but gets only 13% of the NHS budget. Until this discrepancy in funding is addressed, children and young people with mental illness will continue to get a raw deal.”