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Mental health patients still being detained illegally, MP claims

PUBLISHED: 21:52 13 December 2018 | UPDATED: 08:39 14 December 2018

Norman Lamb has demanded urgent action. Photo: PA / Andrew Matthews

Norman Lamb has demanded urgent action. Photo: PA / Andrew Matthews

PA Archive/PA Images

A Norfolk MP has called for urgent action after claiming people with mental health issues are still being unlawfully detained and transported in police vehicles.

Stuart Richardson, NSFT chief operating officer. Photo: NSFTStuart Richardson, NSFT chief operating officer. Photo: NSFT

Norman Lamb, MP for North Norfolk, first raised the concerns in January and was given assurances by mental health chiefs.

But today he said he has received information that “nothing has changed”.

At the start of the year a Freedom of Information request revealed people in Norfolk had been detained in police stations for more than 40 hours awaiting assessment or transfer to hospital.

It also revealed police vehicles were regularly being used to transport patients to hospital

Mr Lamb requested a meeting with Norfolk Constabulary, Norfolk County Council, East of England Ambulance Service, Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT) and North Norfolk CCG to discuss these concerns in January.

He said he was assured work was being put in place to “resolve the situation”.

But this week Mr Lamb said he had been given fresh information to suggest that patients are still regularly being detained in police stations and transported in police vehicles.

NSFT said in response: “We are all doing our very best within a high-pressured health system which has many conflicting demands for all of our resources.”

T/ACC Nick Davison. Picture : ANTONY KELLYT/ACC Nick Davison. Picture : ANTONY KELLY

But Mr Lamb said the situation as it stands is “intolerable”.

T/ACC Nick Davison OF Norfolk Police said there is a “considerable strain” on police resources.

“The fundamental role of the police service is to keep members of the public safe and protect them from harm and this is our primary aim in any situation,” he said.

“We will always support other emergency services and local authorities and our officers are dedicated to helping the public when our assistance is required.

“However, doing this does place considerable strain on our own resources and limits our ability to deal with our core business.

“This means that, working with our partners, we have to redouble our efforts to ensure that some of the most vulnerable members of our communities get the support they need.”

Mr Lamb added: “I understand that individuals continue to be detained unlawfully in police stations. I understand that the police continue to have to convey people to hospital in the absence of an ambulance and I understand that police officers continue to be used to supervise people in hospital for extended periods of time.

“This is an intolerable situation and I am really concerned that the assurances that I had been given that solutions would be found have not been met.”

Picture: Denise BradleyPicture: Denise Bradley

The East of England Ambulance Service said they “prioritise response to sickest patients first”, while NSFT said increased demand over the last five years is “putting pressure on services”

“These very serious system failures need to be addressed as a matter of urgency and I hope that the key parties will now meet with me to get to the bottom of this,” added Mr Lamb.

Terry Hicks, Head of Service Delivery for Norfolk and Waveney, said: “We answer all calls and prioritise response to our sickest patients first, and are committed to providing the most appropriate support to all our patients.

“We work very closely with the police and other partners to provide the right response for those who need our help, and will continue to look at how services can be improved together.”

NSFT “working closely” with police

Stuart Richardson, NSFT’s Chief Operating Officer, said: “Mental health is a system-wide issue and NSFT already works closely with our partner organisations, including the police, ambulance service, GPs and social care to improve the quality of care we all deliver to all our service users.

“As has been seen in other NHS trusts nationally, demand for mental health services has steadily increased over the past five years from people who are increasingly more unwell than before and we are seeing more and more people in crisis. This, in turn, puts more pressure on all of our services.

“We are working in partnership with our commissioners to collectively manage these issues.

“We are all doing our very best within a high-pressured health system which has many conflicting demands for all of our resources.

“Through our close partnership working with the police, we are doing a lot to avoid the need for these detentions.

“These initiatives ensure that people coming to the attention of the police receive a timely assessment of their mental health needs and are directed to appropriate services at the earliest opportunity.”

Mr Richardson said they initiatives include mental health staff working in police control rooms, attending appointments with police officers in Norfolk when police identify a person of concern, and working in mental health triage cars with officers in Suffolk.

“Our mental health nurses work within police control rooms, to try and help avoid the need for a 136 detention in the first place,” he said. “Our staff can assist the police to signpost people to appropriate places of safety and to avoid a detention under the mental health act, unless the risk of violence is too high for a health-based place of safety.

“In Suffolk, our staff work with officers in the mental health triage car. This sees a mental health staff attend incidents alongside officers when people appear to be experiencing mental health difficulties.

“Our trust also has a criminal justice Liaison and Diversion (L&D) service. From their bases in police stations and courts, the L&D team identify anyone with a vulnerability which may be a factor in their offending or reoffending and will talk through the options available to them. They will then be referred to the appropriate services so they can receive support as they move through the justice system and into the right mental health or social care service.

“Often individuals who have been brought by police to the 136 suite are extremely distressed, vulnerable, and may be physically or verbally violent. Therefore, the Police may need to be in attendance until a Mental Health Act assessment has been carried out by the local authority, and we can admit the individual into an inpatient unit for treatment.”

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