Places of Safety Report: IPCC

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originally published: 10th Sept 2008
The Royal College of Psychiatrists

The Royal College of Psychiatrists welcomes the Independent Police Complaints Commission’s IPCC report which examines the role of the police in relation to the use of Section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983.

Section 136 of the Mental Health Act enables the police to take someone who they believe is suffering from a mental disorder and in need of immediate care or control from a public place to a place of safety.

The IPCC report highlights the number of individuals who are taken to a police station as a place of safety. The College agrees that such an environment is poorly suited to managing vulnerable people who have medical problems or are at risk of harming themselves, and may also have the effect of criminalising them. The revised Code of Practice to the Mental Health Act makes clear that this should only now occur on an “exceptional basis”.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists has established a multi-agency group to develop a new set of standards on the use of Section 136. All relevant professional organisations and monitoring agencies were involved, including the IPCC. We are pleased that many of the IPCC’s recommendations relate to recommendations made in these new standards, which are due to be published on 29 September 2008.

Dr Michele Hampson, chair of the multi-agency group responsible for developing these new standards, said: “The IPCC research highlights the need to improve practice in relation to Section 136. However, we do not currently have reliable data on the number of people who are detained in this way.

“Detention under Section 136 is the only civil detention under the Mental Health Act for which no statutory form is required. The Royal College of Psychiatrists wants to see a single, nationally-agreed standard form introduced, and we are pleased that the IPCC has adopted this as one of its recommendations Recommendation 13. Only then can we begin to improve standards of care for this vulnerable group of individuals”.

Dr Hampson also highlighted the urgent need for better staffing of Section 136 facilities. She said: “Although the Department of Health released £130 million for the development of Section 136 assessment facilities in mental health units in 2006, no funding was allocated for staff. Anecdotally, we have heard of new units which are unable to open for lack of staff, and others that expect the police to remain until the assessment has been completed.

Sufficient staff must be available at short notice to enable these facilities to cope with all but the most disturbed individuals or those needing medical care. This must be given the priority it deserves.”

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