Martyn Underhill Blog - 16th October 2013

As mental health in policing continues to make the headlines nationally, I want to share our plans for Dorset.

Since my election, I have called for a rethink of how people in crisis end up in police custody suites purely because they need to be in a 'place of safety'.

Mentally ill people should not be detained in police cells, unless they have broken the law. We need to work closely with our partners to ensure that beds are available at the correct healthcare facility. Assessment suites should be provided by mental health services in all areas so that police stations are no longer used regularly as 'places of safety' for people who are detained under the Mental Health Act.

A few days ago, I and the Deputy Chief Constable met with the Dorset strategic mental health professionals to discuss the key mental health issues in Dorset.

From that meeting came an agreement that a joint agency 'task and finish group' would scope and implement a pilot scheme for Dorset. This pilot will involve mental health nurses triaging people who the police are called to deal with whether in a public or private space.

These dedicated nurses will work alongside police officers as part of the street triage scheme from April 2014. The pilot will be jointly funded by the force and our partners and it aims at improving the diagnosis of people with mental health issues from the outset, especially out of hours.

On a national level, the picture is far more complicated. Some areas, like Dorset, have mental health professionals in custody suites, others do not. Some areas, like Birmingham, have dedicated NHS 'places of safety', others do not. Everyone seems to agree that the mental health landscape nationally is disparate and fragmented. One of the main issues is the amount of different agencies responsible for care in the community.

Police and Crime Commissioners are concerned about the varying levels of service both locally and nationally, as indeed are the Police Federation, Association Of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), the Superintendents Association and various voluntary sector providers.

What is needed is an agreed national minimum level of service that all users can expect and rely on. This needs government intervention to make it happen.

At our meeting of all PCCs last week in London, we agreed as a group to set up a PCC working party to examine all of the issues, which I would chair. This group will agree a national minimium level of service that we expect people in crisis to receive. The group meets for the first time in London on the 6th  of November and intends to lobby the Health Minister for change.

Another issue that PCCs are aware of is the training provided to Police Officers and staff in dealing with people in crisis and we will also consider this as part of our remit as a working group. In the months ahead, I will be working to build a closer relationship between the police, health and social services in Dorset. I hope that the street triage pilot will ensure people with serious mental health issues are given the appropriate care and support, whilst ensuring that police officer's time is freed up to fight crime.

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