STAFFORDSHIRE Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Ellis today challenged mental health trusts to show they are fully prepared for new changes in the law.
Under the Policing and Crime Act 2017, using police cells as a ‘place of safety’ for people with a mental health condition should now only occur in the rarest of circumstances and even then, for no longer than 24 hours.
Mr Ellis has written to the north and south Staffordshire mental health trusts asking if they are prepared and have provisions in place to accommodate those who need a ‘place of safety’.
The Staffordshire Report on Policing and Mental Health, commissioned by the PCC in 2013, set out for the first time the true impact the issue was having on policing and the potential for and actual harm to those in their ‘care’.
The report was used by the then Home Secretary Theresa May to stimulate important changes nationally in the way police and NHS work together on mental health.
Real progress was made not just in Staffordshire, but across the country, in the number of people held in cells as a place of safety.
Mr Ellis said:‘The changes prompted by the report we did in Staffordshire had a major impact with a huge reduction by more than 80 per cent in the county of people held in cells as a place of safety and more than 50 per cent nationally.
‘I expressed my horror when I first found out people were regularly held in cells, when no crime had been committed, simply because they were suffering with mental ill-health.
‘It was a shock it was taking place in 21st century Britain and now I’m really concerned the very real benefits gained since are in danger of being lost.
‘We cannot afford to go backwards. The new legislation actually offers added incentive towards reducing even further the use of cells in this way. But I want assurance from the mental health trusts that they have plans in place to respond.’
The PCC acknowledged the improvements since then were a testament to the efforts of everyone working together – the mental health trusts and their staff, police and other partners – whom he asked to sign up to a local agreement.
‘It is important we continue to be at the forefront of this work and make the most of this opportunity to improve even further. A police cell is not and should never be used as a place of safety for somebody with mental ill-health,’ he added.
In letters to Staffordshire’s north and south mental health trusts, the PCC seeks reassurance they are prepared and have the appropriate resources in place to ensure the provisions of the Act can be met without delay and specifically:
- other than in the most unusual situation police cells are not used as a place of safety and if it is for no longer than 24 hours
- use of cells for under 18s as a place of safety ceases completely