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Mental health: Trusts should be fined if mentally ill people spend too long in police cells, Matthew Scott

Kent crime commissioner Matthew Scott says mental health care groups should be fined if they take too long to take charge of mentally unwell people who end up in police cells.

That's according to Kent crime commissioner Matthew Scott, who told a scrutiny meeting he wants the government to back the idea under new legislation saying there should be powers to penalise health trusts if they do not come forward to take charge of those with mental health issues quickly enough.

He said that while there had been a reduction in the number being detained in custody one improvement would be to introduce financial penalties.

Man handcuffed in police cells. Stock image
Man handcuffed in police cells. Stock image

“We should have the power to penalise health trusts and others where they are not taking patients from the police.”

“If the transfer is taking an inordinate amount of time, then I think we should be able to get some money back.

"There are still too many people ending up in police cells...where they are, I think we should be able to consider financial penalties.”

“I have said that if police officers are spending too much time waiting around for facilities to become available for vulnerable people to get the right support, then potentially, I should be able to get some of the costs back for police officer time.”

“It is not a case of me wanting to claim back for every single case - this is about incentivising the NHS and mental health trusts to do better for these people and release some of the demand on police time.”

He rejected criticism that introducing fines would damage collaboration between the police and health groups.

Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Scott
Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Scott

“The NHS budget is one of the few that is going up in the next few years - it is about £8bn a year extra - so it is a substantial amount of money and I think they need to do more to prioritise mental health care.”

However, he told the Kent and Medway Crime Panel the county was doing well in comparison with other areas.

“In Kent we have seen real progress. In the last few years we had 70 adults in custody, that went up to 76 but fell to 57.”

He accepted that there were some issues around the number of beds available.

Recent figures obtained by Labour revealed the number of mental health cases dealt with by police in England and Wales has risen by more than a third in three years, figures obtained by Labour show.

There were 215,000 such cases in 2016-17 - up from 155,000 incidents in 2013-14, freedom of information figures from 23 of 43 forces suggested.

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