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Charities condemn girl's treatment

Mental health charities have condemned the handling of a vulnerable teenager who was held in a custody cell because there were "no beds available in the UK", describing it as "shocking" and "shameful".

The 16-year-old girl spent two nights in custody and was moved to an "appropriate" place only after a senior police officer lashed out at the "unacceptable" scenario on Twitter and on television.

NHS England said last night the girl was being moved from police custody to a "place appropriate for her care" - but the situation has been described as "appalling" and is said to be "becoming worryingly common".

Paul Netherton, Assistant Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall Police, tweeted: "We have a 16yr old girl suffering from mental health issues held in police custody. There are no beds available in the uk! #unacceptable"

He added: "The 16yr old was detained on Thursday night, sectioned Friday lunchtime and still no place of safety available. This can't be right!

"Custody on a Fri & Sat night is no place for a child suffering mental health issues. Nurses being sourced to look after her in custody !?!"

He later added: "Just heard that a place of care has been found for our 16yr old. Good result."

NHS England said: "A local place of care has been identified for a 16-year-old girl who was being held by the police in Devon.

"After details were provided to NHS England about the girl and her condition a place was found locally within a few hours. We are grateful for the help of the NHS in the area in identifying the place."

Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, the mental health charity, said: "This is a terrible and shameful situation. Being in mental health crisis can be terrifying and life-threatening, and people need urgent care from mental health services."

He said a police cell is a "completely inappropriate place to put someone who is so unwell", adding: "This whole episode shows how thinly spread NHS mental health services are."

Lucie Russell, director of campaigns at YoungMinds, said police are not mental health professionals and it should not be their responsibility to look after the teenager.

"It is both shocking and totally inappropriate that a 16-year-old child has to spend two days in a police cell as she goes through a serious mental health crisis," she said.

She added: "This girl will look back on the crisis she experienced and remember living through it in police custody."

Mark Winstanley, chief executive of Rethink Mental Illness, said: "This is a very troubling situation, but unfortunately it is far from an isolated incident."

He said every year thousands of people with serious mental health problems are being held in police cells, including many children and teenagers, because the right services "either don't exist in their community or are completely overstretched".

If someone is going through a mental health crisis, they should be brought to a "health-based 'place of safety'", he said.

"Being held in a police cell can be extremely distressing, and should only ever happen as an absolute last resort."

Shadow health minister Luciana Berger said: ''This sad situation is becoming worryingly common. People shouldn't face the indignity of being kept in police cells when they are at their most vulnerable."

She said mental health services have suffered more than other NHS services and are "falling deeper and deeper into crisis", adding: "The NHS has lost 1,500 specialist beds and thousands of mental health nurses.

''This is an appalling reflection of the crisis in mental health services and the Government must get to grips with it.''

Dr Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said it is "appalling" that any patient should be taken into police custody due to a lack of mental health beds, but said it was "particularly unacceptable" that it should happen to a 16-year-old.

''The severe pressures on mental health services are leading to shocking situations across the country," he said.

''The last four years have seen a drop of more than 3,300 mental health nursing posts and a loss of 1,500 available beds despite a 30% rise in patients requiring mental health care.

''These cutbacks are having a devastating impact on those who desperately need care and support.

''It's a terrible indictment of this country's inadequate mental health provision."

NHS England said: "It is worth noting that mental health crisis services have been expanding so that the number of people ending up in police cells is in fact down - but clearly more needs to be done."

Mr Netherton told Sky News that police would not put a criminal in custody for that long and said they certainly do not want to put someone suffering from mental health issues in a custody block for such a length of time.

He said the girl was detained on Thursday night while she was at Torbay Hospital because she caused a breach of the peace.

When she got to custody she was detained under mental health powers, and the following day she was assessed by doctors who found she needed to be detained under section 3 of the Mental Health Act.

Mr Netherton said the force has been told there were ''no beds available anywhere in the United Kingdom''.

He added: "What concerns us in this case, and it's certainly a problem across the country, talking to my colleagues, is the fact that it involves children.

''And I do not think there's sufficient provision for children who suffer mental health issues and need to be detained in an emergency situation like this.''

Former GP and chairman of the Commons Health Select Committee Dr Sarah Wollaston said a police cell was "absolutely the wrong place" for anyone experiencing a mental-health crisis.

The Tory MP for Totnes told Murnaghan on Sky News: "We know that last year there were 30 children in Devon and Cornwall who unfortunately spent a night in a police cell for no reason other than the fact they were experiencing a mental-health crisis.

"Clearly it is unacceptable if it happens to anybody, adult or child, but particularly abhorrent that it happens to children.

"It must stop and I'd like to see this made what's called a never event in the NHS.

"It''s absolutely the wrong place for anyone to be in a police cell when they are in a mental-health crisis.

"We would find it utterly unacceptable if this was a physical condition and we should feel the same about a mental health condition."

Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham told Murnaghan on Sky News the Government needed to bring forward a plan to give "immediate support" to services.

He said: "This needs to be addressed right now this winter, because we cannot have young people waiting for beds in police cells when they need to be in hospital. This is put to me all the time, that there are people travelling the country hundreds of miles in search of a bed. This really is not good enough.

"We heard a report just a few days ago that seven people had died actually while waiting for a bed. The crisis in mental health is happening right now and the Government needs to bring forward a plan to give immediate support to services.

"We need to hear a statement from them in the next day or two about what they are going to do to help mental health services right now."


From Belfast Telegraph