PCC Supports Call by Mental Health Charity
The Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for Gwent, Jeff Cuthbert, has welcomed calls by mental health charity, Mind Cymru, for Parliament to end the use of police cells as 'places of safety' for people in mental health crisis.
The Policing and Crime Bill, currently making its way through the House of Lords, which also takes effect in Wales, and will end the use of cells as 'places of safety' for under 18s who are suicidal, self-harming or in psychosis. But Mind Cymru is calling for this to be extended to adults too.
According to Gwent PCC Jeff Cuthbert, significant progress has been made in Gwent and substantial programmes of work are underway in the Force area which he believes will improve things further.
In 2013/14, more than half (51%) of people detained by Gwent Police under the Mental Health Act were taken to police custody for assessment rather than a health facility, both of which are deemed to be a Place of Safety under the Act. This figure reduced to 40% in 2014/15 and to 33% in 2015/16.
Following his election as PCC, Mr Cuthbert reaffirmed the commitment of his office to support the key principles outlined within the Wales Mental Health Crisis Care Concordat. This is a joint agreement between the Welsh Government and 28 key organisations and partners throughout Wales which highlights how they will work together to help people going through a mental health crisis. It aims to help reduce the number of people detained inappropriately in police cells and drive out the variation in standards across Wales.
And through an innovative pilot project being jointly funded by Mr Cuthbert's Office and the Aneurin Bevan University Health Board, a dedicated mental health specialist is now working alongside Gwent Police in the Force's control room to ensure that when vulnerable people with a mental health illness or suffering a crisis come into contact with them, they receive appropriate care and support.
Julie Bainbridge is the Approved Mental Health Professional (AMHP) who works alongside staff in the control room and assists them in managing risk and harm to those with a mental illness or suffering a crisis.
Highlighting what her role entails, Julie said: "As people come through to the Force Control room the operators look at the situation and then if it's concerning mental health, they will pass that call on to me so I can help. This can include help in looking for a missing person who we know to be vulnerable. I've got a link to local the local authority, police and health board computer systems, so we can help find that person a lot faster with this service.
In one recent case, an 84 year old elderly woman had gone missing from her home. The police picked her up but she didn't know who she was and only knew her first name. Eventually they managed to get a second name. I checked on the system and found that she was originally from another health board area but had recently relocated to Gwent with her family. We managed to find a relative and linked her back with her family within two hours of me coming on duty."
Julie added: "It's important that I have the knowledge of the police officers on the ground and there are really positive officers out there who are passionate about getting the right outcome for people suffering a mental health crisis. The passion of the officers is what's impressed me most since I've been here."
Welcoming the call from Mind Cymru, Gwent PCC Jeff Cuthbert said: "I fully support any call for improvements in how we can best help people who are in their greatest hour of need. People in mental health crisis are some of the most vulnerable members of our community and should only be detained in police custody in genuinely exceptional circumstances. The figures issued today actually highlight the various demands on our police officers who are working in an exceptionally challenging financial environment as a result of significant government cuts to the policing budget."
According to Mr Cuthbert, the police cannot provide for the security and well-being of people in mental health crisis by itself and it's only through strong partnership working with other organisations and by putting the needs of the individual first can they seek to improve the quality of service they receive.
"I am committed to working with our partners to continue to improve our response to people suffering a mental health crisis," said Mr Cuthbert.
"One in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year and it's vitally important that people in their greatest hour of need have access to specialist support and receive the right level of help. I will continue to work closely with our partners locally and nationally to ensure we can support people when they need us most."