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I wrote a blog last year about some of the difficulties associated with police powers to intervene with people suffering from a mental disorder (Police Powers – Changes in the making). A year later and new law is proposed by the Government in the shape of the Policing and Crime Bill, which makes a lot of amendments to a lot of legislation, including section 136 the Mental Health Act. Just a reminder, section 136 is about police powers to remove someone with a mental disorder to a place of safety from a place to which the public have access. These powers have been the subject of concern and inquiry for sometime, and now the Government have come up with solutions to address some of these.
Public or private
First is the difficulty of what constitutes a public place. I’ve been involved in training about s.136 in the past, and trying to define a public place can be complex. What about the landing of a hotel, or the bar of a private member’s golf club – are these public places? Well the proposed way round this in the Bill is to say that someone can be removed from anywhere that is not the house or flat where the person is living, or an attached outhouse or garden.
Not so safe places
The next controversy is the appropriateness of police stations as places of safety. The Mental Health Act Code of Practice says that these should only be used in ‘exceptional circumstances’ where there is high risk of aggression that could not be managed in a hospital place of safety. Remember, being in a place of safety is not the same as being formally admitted to a hospital ward. A report from 2013 by the CQC, HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and others noted there were a lot of exceptional circumstances indicated by the still high use of police cells (‘A criminal use of police cells’ which can be found at: http://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmic/media/a-criminal-use-of-police-cells-20130620.pdf). The new proposals look to tackle this but we’re not sure in what way yet! The Bill says that police stations can be used as places of safety in certain circumstances that will be covered by regulation. We’ll have to see what the regulation says. However the Bill does tackle head on the issue of young people being detained in cells, as it specifically prohibits the use of police cells as places of safety for under 18s removed under the Mental Health Act.
One other change tries to limit the amount of time someone would remain in a place of safety before getting a mental health assessment which would decide what happens next, and that is to be cut from 72 hours to 24 hours (with some scope for extension if the person has been seen by a doctor).
This is a Bill – not yet an Act. We can watch progression on this with interest. If you want to look at Bill it can be viewed at: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/cbill/2015-2016/0134/16134.pdf
David Beckingham – QCS Expert Mental Health Contributor