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May to unveil mental health policy

Published 20/05/2015

Theresa May said police cells were not the correct place for the mentally ill
Theresa May said police cells were not the correct place for the mentally ill

Theresa May will today announce new government plans to end the problem of people with mental health issues being detained in police cells.

The Home Secretary will commit up to £15 million to provide health-based alternatives for those held under the Mental Health Act.

Thousands of people detained under the law were kept in police cells last year.

In her first speech since being reappointed to the role following the election, Mrs May will say: "Nobody wins when the police are sent to look after people suffering from mental health problems.

"Vulnerable people don't get the care they need and deserve, and the police can't get on with the job they are trained to do."

Last year more than 4,000 people detained under the act were held in a police cell rather than a "health-based place of safety", Mrs May will tell the annual conference of the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW).

She will say: "Today I can announce that the Government will provide the bed and the funding that is needed to stop that happening.

"This will mean up to £15 million of new funding to deliver health-based places of safety in England and a guarantee from this Government that no person with mental health problems will be detained by the police due to the lack of a suitable alternative.

"The right place for a person suffering a mental health crisis is a bed, not a police cell. And the right people to look after them are medically trained professionals, not police officers."

The new funding will be made available from the Department of Health to the NHS to work in partnership with police and crime commissioners to fund more health-based and alternative "places of safety".

Laws to reform the use of Sections 135 and 136 of the Mental Health Act will be included in the police and sentencing Bill, which will be outlined in the Queen's Speech next week.

Sections 135 and 136 set out how and when a person considered to have a "mental disorder" can be removed to a "place of safety" and detained without their consent.

Proposals include:

::Amending legislation so that children and young people aged under 18 are never taken to police cells if detained under Sections 135 or 136.

::Ensuring that police cells can only be used as a place of safety for adults if the person's behaviour is so extreme they cannot otherwise be safely managed;

::Reducing the current 72 hour maximum period of detention for the purposes of medical assessment;

::Allowing other places, other than health settings or police cells, to be designated as places of safety to support vulnerable people.

In 2014/15, as many as 21,995 people in England and Wales were sectioned under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act, of which at least a fifth were detained in a police cell.

Estimates suggest police spend between 20% and 40% of their time dealing with people with mental health issues.

Earlier this year the Home Affairs Committee described the prevalence of people with mental illness in the criminal justice system as "a scandal".

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