cell doorThe use of police cells as a ‘place of safety’ for people experiencing a mental health crisis has decreased by 34% in the past year, thanks to a national programme to improve crisis care.

The Crisis Care Concordat – a programme to drive up standards in mental health crisis care across the country – has also led to almost 10,000 people receiving emergency attention from mental health nurses working alongside police officers in street triage schemes, and improved ambulance response times to mental health crises.

Launched in February 2014, the Concordat has resulted in: 

A 55% reduction in England in the use of police cells as a place of safety for people detained under the Mental Health Act since 2011/12 and a 34% reduction since 2013/14

Help being given to more than 9,350 people by street triage schemes in 12 months in the 9 areas where pilots have been running. A further 17 areas now have street triage schemes following this success  

10 ambulance trusts signing up to 30 minute targets for paramedics to respond to mental health crises where the police have been the first to the scene. Previously these were not routinely treated as emergencies.

Minister for Community and Social Care, Alistair Burt said: “Having a mental illness is not a crime. Anyone experiencing a mental health crisis should be treated with the same urgency and compassion as someone with a broken leg, rather than ending up in a police cell. 

“Too often this has not been the case but every part of the country is working hard to change that. I’m proud of these results and I’m determined to build on this further so that everyone in crisis gets the care they need in the right place at the right time.” 

Local areas will now refresh their commitments to improve mental health crisis care even further. To help make this happen, the government has announced an extra £15 million next year to provide more places of safety for those detained under the Mental Health Act. The Care Quality Commission has also begun to inspect local health services to assess the quality of care they provide for patients in crisis. 

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Dr Geraldine Strathdee, national clinical director for mental health at NHS England, added: “We are now reaping the many benefits of organisations pulling together in the Crisis Care Concordat and we want to see this continue. People in mental health crisis deserve to have the same care available to them 24 hours a day as people with a physical health emergency. We have started to make strides towards this [by] investing £30 million to improve services and setting up a mental health taskforce to establish a clear vision for the next five years. 

“Innovations in the transformation of crisis care services are achieved by partnership working and there are some large scale major innovations in areas such as Sunderland, Bradford and Hertfordshire which should be celebrated.”

But, as Minister for Preventing Abuse and Exploitation, Karen Bradley, noted, while progress has been made in some areas in England and Wales, others still have a long way to go to improve outcomes for people with mental health needs. “That is why we have already announced measures to reduce the amount of time the police spend dealing with people experiencing mental ill health, while ensuring these people still receive the support they need at a time of crisis,” she said.

“Later in the year we will introduce legislative changes to ensure a police cell is truly a place of last resort for vulnerable people suffering a mental health crisis.”

Sophie Corlett, director of external relations at Mind, also welcomed the news. “We are really pleased to see such a big reduction in the use of police cells. No one in crisis should have to wait in a cell because of a lack of suitable health services. That some forces have used street triage and other initiatives to dramatically improve the support they provide to people in crisis shows what can be done. We need now to see this kind of progress all over the country.

“The Crisis Care Concordat is a large-scale, important piece of work and Mind is proud to have been involved in getting it up and running. There is a long way to go to improve services but these early signs of progress are very encouraging. We now need to keep up the momentum for change and make sure that, no matter where you are in England, you can access high quality care and support if you find yourself in crisis.”