“Policing should not be used as a substitute for mental health services” – Dai Lloyd AM

A report published by the National Assembly’s Health, Social Care and Sport Committee raises serious concerns about the increase in detentions under the Mental Health Act.

The Committee heard evidence from mental health charities and police that nearly all police forces in Wales have seen an increase in such detentions and that the situation varies across geographical areas due to patchy mental health services.

A revolving door

Members of the committee heard concerns about the numbers of repeat detentions, under section 136, following release – described as a ‘revolving door’ by mental health organisations. The Committee is alarmed that the majority of people detained under the Mental Health Act are discharged following assessment because they do not need urgent mental health treatment. Questions were raised as to whether the Act is being used because of an absence of other, more appropriate support services for someone who is experiencing a mental health crisis.

The Committee believes that to avoid repeat detentions, individuals and their families need to know where to go for help and support as a crisis is approaching.

It is calling for better monitoring of readmissions and a greater focus on early intervention to avoid repeat detentions and to better inform crisis planning.

Positive policing

Although the numbers of people detained under the Mental Health Act has increased, those being held in police custody has reduced year on year. The Committee has been reassured that police custody is no longer being used as a place of safety for those detained, apart from in exceptional circumstances.

Many who gave evidence to the Committee’s inquiry were positive about the contact people had with the police when experiencing a mental health crisis. Mind Cymru told the Committee that individuals and their families who have been in mental health crisis and called the police have been grateful for the support they received, challenging the general assumption that people experiencing a mental health crisis have negative views of being detained by police.

Homeless charity, The Wallich added that in its experience police have always been very helpful and help people look for solutions, but it is frustrated with the way mental health issues are handled more generally.

Places of safety

To adhere to the Mental Health Act Code of Practice for Wales guidance in relation to the use of powers of detention, health services and local authorities must provide adequate facilities for both adults and young people. According to Mind Cymru, in the majority of cases, people detained under section 136 of the Act are brought to a health-based place of safety.

Although the Committee has welcomed assurances that all Health Boards have designated health-based places of safety, it is concerned at suggestions that provision is patchy and varies across the country and that not all frontline staff, such as police, have access to services.

Justice in Wales

Policing is not devolved, unlike health and local government. The Minister for Health and Social Services told the Committee that the Welsh Government was not in a position to direct the police to act in a certain way because it is not a devolved service.

However, in October The Commission on Justice in Wales’ reported (Justice In Wales for the People of Wales) and outlined the problem relating to mental health issues and policing.

Launching today’s Health, Social Care and Sport Committee report, Chair, Dai Lloyd AM, said:

“We are concerned that more and more people are being detained under the Mental Act and that a lack of mental health services in the community has led to an increase in the number of repeat detentions, under section 136, following release.

“We have heard of some concerning evidence but also some excellent best practice. Frontline police officers are providing support for individuals who have been in a mental health crisis, however, policing should not be used as a substitute for mental health services.

“Today we are outlining a number of recommendations for the Welsh Government to ensure that there is a more consistent approach to mental health crisis care and services across Wales.

“As well as consistent services across Wales, we must make sure that those in crisis are not trapped in a cycle and that they get the proper treatment and care that they deserve. We must get to the root of the problem and end the revolving door of repeat detentions.”