cell doorUse of police cells as places of safety for people experiencing mental health crisis has fallen to its lowest level since records began.

Data from the Cavendish Square Group, the collaboration of the 10 London NHS trusts responsible for mental health services revealed that less than one person experiencing mental distress per month was taken to a police cell as a place of safety under Section 136.

In 2013 the Mental Health Partnership Board was formed to develop best practice and partnership between the Metropolitan Police and mental health services in London. One of only two stated priorities was to reduce the number of times people in crisis are taken into police custody when in need of a safe space.

“Our ambition was to work with the police to stop the practice of taking people in mental distress to police cells and instead ensure they are taken to an appropriate environment to assess their needs and give them access to the right support quickly.” said Maria Kane, a member of the Cavendish Square Group and the lead liaison between the NHS in the capital and the Metropolitan Police.

“The latest data, covering January – September 2016, shows how hard the Trusts have been working over the last three years; we have been working flat out to ensure that patients can be admitted even when Trusts are under real pressure for space. 

“Going from 87 instances in London in 2013 when we began our work, to averaging less than one police cell being used per month now, is a testament to the success of this partnership. In the last two months recorded, no one has been in a police cell.

“The Metropolitan Police Service contributes between 20–25% of the national s136 demand, so to achieve such low levels of police cell usage as places of safety here should set a national precedent for what can be achieved when services work together to make this a priority. To set this in context, there were over 6,000 s136s recorded in London between January 2015 and June 2016.”

Claire Murdoch, chair of the Cavendish Square Group, added: “These figures are great news – the Cavendish Square Group and the NHS, working with the Met Police, has made a real impact. There are significant pressures across the crisis pathway with much still to do however, this does not alter this important achievement.

“The challenge now is to maintain the momentum and ultimately stop it happening altogether. We need to ensure that investment in health-based places of safety continues, so when officers are supporting people in mental health crisis, there are appropriate places of safety available.”