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Kent police and crime commissioner says review of Mental Health Act will free cops to fight crime

By John Nurden

A review of the Government's Mental Health Act has recommended mentally ill people should not be put in cells or police vans, potentially freeing up officers to fight crime.

The report, published today, has been welcomed by experts in the county for suggesting the law needs reforming.

Kent's police and crime commissioner Matthew Scott said the recommendations should allow police to be freed up to fight crime, rather than look after people detained in their cells under the Mental Health Act.

Kent police and crime commissioner Matthew Scott

The review also wants patients in England and Wales to be given extra rights to challenge their detention and treatment in specialist units.

But experts insist any improvements must be accompanied by sufficient funding.

Kent Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Scott contributed to the review chaired by Professor Sir Simon Wessely.

He said: "I'm delighted that the review has recommended something that police and crime commissioners have been calling for for some time: and that's an end to the use of police stations and police cells as a place of safety under the Mental Health Act.

"It's absolutely vital that people get the right care from the right person at the right time, and also the right place.

"With the government's investment of £2 billion extra in crisis services, I believe that we can start to make sure the police isn't picking up the pieces on behalf of other agencies, that people are getting the support they need at their time of crisis, and that the police can be freed up to fight crime.

"I believe that this review and these recommendations are really important and I hope the government will take them forward."

Professor Sir Simon Wessely
Professor Sir Simon Wessely

The review was needed because of rising detention rates under the original 1983 Act and a "disproportionate" detention of black, Asian and minority ethnic groups.

The number of people detained under the act rose from 48,600 in 2011-12 to 63,600 in 2015-16, according to NHS Digital figures.

Black people are four times more likely to be detained under the act.

The Government will consider the 150 recommendations in the new year.

Professor Wessely has also called for major new investment to improve some of the most "dilapidated" estates in the NHS.

He stressed compulsory treatment must be a last resort and more care should be provided in the community before people need to be detained.

Prime Minister Theresa May said: "I commissioned this review because I am determined to make sure those suffering from mental health issues are treated with dignity and respect, with their liberty and autonomy respected."

Under current legislation, patients are allocated a "nearest relative" which can lead to distant or unknown relatives being called to make decisions about their care.

People suffering mental health issues should not be kept in police cells, the review of the Mental Health Act has recommended
People suffering mental health issues should not be kept in police cells, the review of the Mental Health Act has recommended

The proposed new Mental Health Bill will give patients the power to nominate a person of their choice.

Royal College of Psychiatrists president Professor Wendy Burn warned that services need more cash and more staff.

She said: "If the Government is serious about significantly reducing the use of the Mental Health Act, hard-pushed mental health services urgently need further investment and a larger workforce to help people stay well before they reach a crisis point."

Paul Jenkins who chairs the Mental Health Network said: "We welcome the recommendations and hope they will increase choice and provide alternatives to detention following years of rises in detention rates.

“The review rightly acknowledges that the experience of people from black African and Caribbean heritage of mental health services is too often one of exclusion or detention."

Mental health spokesman Dr Andrew Molodynski of the British Medical Association said: “We welcome this review and with it the recognition of the importance of improving the overall patient experience in relation to mental health legislation and the subsequent care they receive.

“The review rightly addresses concerns over discrimination and fairness within the current system for those at greater risk, such as people from certain ethnic backgrounds who are unfairly disadvantaged."

"I believe that we can start to make sure the police isn't picking up the pieces on behalf of other agencies, that people are getting the support they need at their time of crisis, and that the police can be freed up to fight crime..." - Matthew Scott, Kent police and crime commissioner

But he added: "As well as a significant legislative overhaul, there is a clear need for investment in mental health to ensure effective patient care, with a focus on treatment rather than security. Meaningful change can only endure if underpinned by properly staffed and fully resourced services.”

Sarah Hughes, chief executive of the Centre for Mental Health, said: “The Mental Health Act plays such an important part in governing the way people are supported when they are most unwell.

"It gives the state powers to detain and treat people against their will and as such it is vital that the Act is modernised to ensure people have their rights taken seriously at every stage and that everyone is treated with dignity and respect throughout.

“The Mental Health Act we have today is in many ways outdated and paternalistic.

"The Review’s recommendations should go a long way to bringing the Act into the 21st century by ensuring people have more rights to say how they want to be treated, including by making advance decisions that professionals have to take more seriously.

“It also makes important recommendations to ensure people in prison are transferred to hospital more quickly. We know that too many prisoners are made to wait for weeks and months for treatment when they are acutely unwell."

Jessica Southgate, policy manager for Agenda, the alliance for women and girls at risk, said: "More than half of women with a mental health problem have experienced violence and abuse.

"Yet this is often not taken into account when they are detained, resulting in care that fails to meet their needs and can even make situations worse.

* The report Modernising the Mental Health Act is published today.

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