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Nearly 1,700 people suffering a mental health crisis in Kent and Medway detained by police

By Caitlin Webb, local democracy reporter

More people suffering a mental health crisis were detained by police in Medway than anywhere else in Kent.

Officers have the power to section anyone who appears to be a risk to themselves or others, under section 136 of the mental health act.

Almost 1,700 people were admitted for crisis care in Kent using the rule between April 2017 and April 2018.

More people were detained by police under the mental health act in Medway than anywhere else in Kent
More people were detained by police under the mental health act in Medway than anywhere else in Kent

During this time Medway topped the chart for the most detentions with Maidstone and Thanet closely behind.

More than 250 people going through a mental health crisis were escorted by police from a public space in the Towns to either A&E or, as a last resort, a police station.

However, only about 20% of these vulnerable people required further treatment at hospital.

Medway Council's cabinet member for community services, Cllr Howard Doe (Con), suggested there needs to be a change in understanding of mental health to prevent illness escalating to section 136 detentions.

At the health and wellbeing board last night, he said: "In physical health we have done a lot of work in teaching people to be far more able to manage their own physical health.

"People talking about their health rather more than they used to but I don't think mental health is something people understand at all yet.

People suffering a mental health crisis can wait more than 50 days to be referred for treatment
People suffering a mental health crisis can wait more than 50 days to be referred for treatment

"Particularly in terms of people being able to manage their health long before it gets anywhere near needing crisis care."

He added people should "not be afraid of mental health" and should be taught how to manage their health.

However, deputy director for mental health provider North East London NHS Foundation Trust (NELFT) Gill Burns told the board there is a long way to go before this happens.

She used an analogy that if someone went to a physiotherapist for an injury, they would go home with a series of self-help tools with the expectation of continued treatment as the pain is still there.

She added: "There is quite a significant cultural shift required before we think about self care and self management within mental health services."

To tackle this endemic, Kent and Medway NHS social care partnership trust launched a triage service where a mental health nurse patrolled the streets with a police officer three nights a week.

Experts say people need to be taught how to manage their health long before it gets anywhere near crisis care
Experts say people need to be taught how to manage their health long before it gets anywhere near crisis care

This six-month trial in Medway saw a reduction of section 136 orders as 44 people were referred to alternative treatment.

Over the same timeframe, across Kent there was a 5% increase in these section 136 assessments, while in Medway there was a reduction of 19%.

At the last Kent and Medway police and crime panel, crime commissioner Matthew Scott outlined plans to reform section orders.

He explained Kent Police is looking to ensure no one is sent to police cells or transported in police vehicles while in a mental health crisis.

He said: "We all want to do right by people going through a mental health crisis and make sure they get the right treatment from the right people at the right time."

Mr Scott also shared his concerns officers spend a lot of their time dealing with these vulnerable people rather than fighting crime.

Police can often spend a whole shift waiting for these people to be seen by mental health professionals.

For some desperate people, section 136 notices is seen as a way to get help quicker as patients can wait more than 50 days to be referred for treatment.

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Section 136 detentions across Kent and Medway between April 2017 and April 2018

  • Medway 251
  • Maidstone 243
  • Thanet 219
  • Canterbury 145
  • Dartford 128
  • Ashford 113
  • Swale 110
  • Folkestone and Hythe 108
  • Dover 104
  • Gravesham 92
  • Sevenoaks 49
  • Tonbridge and Malling 49
  • Tunbridge Wells 41
  • Other 39

Total: 1,691 - compared to 1,026 in 2016/17

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