Pilot scheme will put mental health teams into prisons for first time

10:57 25 April 2014

The scheme was launched in Haringey.

The scheme was launched in Haringey.

PA Wire/Press Association Images

Mental health nurses are being placed in police stations and courts for the first time as part of a major pilot scheme launched in Haringey.

The pilot, which was officially launched at Haringey Civic Centre this month, will see teams of psychiatric nurses permanently based at courts and police stations across Camden and Haringey.

The aim is to improve the way people with mental health problems are dealt with by the criminal justice system.

It is hoped vulnerable people who are arrested or taken into police custody can get the help and treatment they need much more quickly, with assessments and referrals taking place at the earliest opportunity.

It comes amid concern about the numbers of people detained under the Mental Health Act who are thrown into police cells rather than put into the care of health professionals.

The Care Quality Commission highlighted the problem last week when it released new figures that showed 35 per cent of people sectioned in the financial year 2012/13 ended up in police cells, despite legislation requiring this to happen only as a last resort. For children under the age of 18, the figure was 45 per cent.

Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of the mental health charity SANE and a Highgate resident, said: “People in acute crisis may be suicidal or otherwise at risk and they urgently need care, not confinement in a police cell.

“They need compassion instead of being strip-searched and treated as criminals.

“They may feel doubly punished, first by their condition and then by being treated as if they were criminals. If this were happening to people with a physical condition there would be a national outcry.

“We welcome these pilot schemes because too often police have been picking up the pieces where psychiatric services have failed mentally ill people. We hope that mental health nurses will reduce the shocking numbers of people being detained in this way.”

The trial will last 18 months and includes Kentish Town, Holborn and Wood Green police stations and Highbury Corner Magistrates’ Court, which deals with most Camden defendants and many from Haringey.

The NHS says it will reduce the burden on the justice system by saving police and court time. It will help young offenders in particular, about a third of whom are estimated to have mental health needs.

Mark Landy, of Barnet, Enfield and Haringey Mental Health Trust, said: “There’ll be a nurse situated in every custody suite and it’s that nurse’s job to assess the immediate needs of the person in the custody suite, managing that risk and making sure they’re safe whilst they’re there.”

Ch Supt Chris Bourlet, of the Met, said: “This is a very positive initiative. We know people coming into police custody are more likely to suffer from mental health issues.

“By working in partnership, we can make sure those people get the most appropriate on-going support when they leave, by finding longer term solutions to health issues which may stop people coming back into police custody in the future.”

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