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New service to improve mental health care in police cells

07 March 2014

Police custody suiteThe trust has launched a pilot service that sees mental health clinicians working in police custody suites to assess people with suspected mental health problems.

The two year police liaison pilot, managed by West London Mental Health NHS Trust, is currently based in Hammersmith, Chiswick, Acton and Hounslow police stations.

Officers in custody suites or mental health teams can refer people held in one of the above custody suites to the service for an assessment when they believe someone could be mentally unwell.

The agreement follows a report by four official watchdogs last summer – Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, the Care Quality Commission, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons and the Health Inspectorate of Wales – that showed the use of police cells as a place of safety was far from exceptional, and detailed how 9,000 people with mental health problems were detained in police custody in 2011-12. Some were as young as 14.

Community forensic services manager, Paula King, manages the service.  She said: “From our experience, we know that people detained in police custody suites are more likely to have mental health problems than the wider population.

“If we’re able to assess people with a suspected mental health problem at an early stage and provide them with relevant treatment or help, we can reduce reoffending and better manage risk in custody. Better liaison between police and mental health services also reduces delays in the criminal justice system and ensures that there is ongoing support for people as they go through the criminal justice system so their social and health needs are stabilised.”

Extra funding

Last month, the Department of Health announced an extra £25 million of funding for mental health professionals to work with police stations and courts so that people with mental health problems get the right treatment as quickly as possible.

Sean Mcguire, police liaison community psychiatric nurse, works for the service.  He said: “Our police liaison nursing team brings valuable expertise in helping people with mental health problems at an early stage.

“In the short time we have been piloting this service, we have helped a number of people whose mental health problems would have probably gone unnoticed until they ended up at court or worse still, in prison.  I believe this service is vital as it will help improve the healthcare that people have access to in the criminal justice system.

“We have also received favourable comments from our colleagues in the police service who say that it has helped their public protection work and freed up resources for other policing work.”

For more information, contact Simon Morgan, external communications manager: 020 8354 8325 /