Published: 06:00, 29 February 2020
A Medway family has hit out against a mental health crisis team after having to rely on support from the police during a 'weekend of hell' with their paranoid schizophrenic son.
George Riley, 27, of Cliffe Road, Strood, has autism and learning difficulties and recently experienced a steep deterioration in his mental health, resulting in him being sectioned under the Mental Health Act.
Mum Karen Watkins and step-dad Brett described sleepless nights and tearful moments as their son became more and more distressed, lashing out at them and saying he wanted to kill himself.
Mrs Watkins said: "He became really violent, he just started hitting us. Brett couldn't go to work because he was really worried about leaving me."
As 27-year-old George's condition worsened, his care coordinator recommended his parents seek emergency help and find a bed in a psychiatric facility, but there were none available.
Mr Watkins said: "George was deteriorating, he hadn't slept for three or four days. So you can imagine the state he was in along with his mental illness.
"That was the point where the carers said if things are getting that tough, you must call the crisis team."
The Medway and Swale Crisis Resolution and Home Treatment provide urgent treatment for adults in the area.
George's parents said they were shocked when members of the crisis team failed to provide them with the support they needed.
On the evening of Thursday, February 13, they called the team multiple times at the recommendation of his carers, but no operator picked up.
Mr and Mrs Watkins felt they had to contact the police as George was becoming a physical threat to himself and those around him.
When they managed to reach a crisis team operator the next day, they were told no doctor was available and their only options would be to medicate George until a bed became available, take him to A&E or ask police, who had attended again, to perform a Section 136.
"The police told us, 'we cannot put a boy like this in a cell'..."
A Section 136 allows police officers to detain someone in a mental health crisis and take them to a safe place, whether a police premises or a friend or relative's home.
However, police officers in attendance said they did not want to arrest George.
Mrs Watkins said: "The police told us, 'we cannot put a boy like this in a cell'.
"They explained that his condition wasn't a criminal offence, and he needed medical help."
Over the weekend, the couple resorted to calling police multiple times for support, with officers staying at the property for up to four hours to try and calm George down.
They said without the support of officers, they don't know what they would have done.
Mr Watkins said: "Kent Police were the crisis team."
Mrs Watkins said: "Every single police officer that came here - and they came here a lot - was fantastic.
"Since this has happened. I haven't had one single call from any of the crisis team to see how George is or how we are, yet the police phoned this morning to see how we're getting on."
She added: "We cannot praise highly enough the way the police supported all of our family and the care, compassion and empathy they showed to my son .
On Sunday, February 16, the care coordinator was finally able to find a bed for George, but the closest one available was in Darlington, County Durham.
George and his mum travelled more than five hours in an ambulance to the facility, where George was assessed and sectioned.
Mrs Watkins said: "It wasn't the fact that we had to wait for the bed over the weekend, it was the crisis team's complete lack of support.
"There was no concern for George, it was almost like they wanted the police to take him, put him in a cell and then they wouldn't have to worry about it."
The Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Scott, who is also the national PCC lead for mental health issues, has said mental health-related incidents like this take up around a third of all Kent Police's time.
"What is the point of a crisis plan when it tells you to ring the crisis team and they do nothing?..."
He said: "I have used funding from my office to try to reduce that demand, and sat on the national review which called for police cells to be used as a place of safety in only exceptional circumstances, but the number of people being detained by Kent Police under Section 136 continues to rise.
"Police officers are trained to do their best to help someone in crisis, but they are not mental health professionals. All too frequently they are picking up the pieces left by other agencies when the public wants them dealing with crime and anti-social behaviour in our communities instead.
"What is required is better NHS provision of alternative places of safety."
As George recuperates in Darlington, his parents are now concerned for what they will do if they need help again in the future.
Mrs Watkins said: "My problem now is when George does come back into the community I've got no faith now. "What is the point of a crisis plan when it tells you to the crisis team and they do nothing?"
Kent & Medway NHS & Social Care Partnership said: "We are truly sorry to hear that George’s family are disappointed in the care their son has received.
"We work very closely with families to understand their concerns and would like the opportunity to speak with George’s family ourselves so that we can understand their situation and sort it out.
"Where people have very complex mental health needs or there is risk of harm to themselves or others, we work closely with other agencies including the police to make sure appropriate steps are taken to keep people safe.
"This process can take time; however, once we are able to carry out a mental health assessment we can work to ensure that the correct support is provided so that we deliver the right care at the right time and in the right place for that person."
George's story comes after a mother from Dover said she believed her daughter would still be alive if she had not contacted the NHS mental health teams.
Callie Lewis' body was found found in a tent in Cumbria on August 21, 2018, just over two weeks after she was released from Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust in Dover.
Her story was told on the BBC Panorama documentary 'Failed by the NHS: Callie’s Story.'
Ms Lewis, who was born in Chatham, had been sectioned after a friend told her mother, Sarah Lewis, that she intended to take her own life.
At the inquest into her death, the jury found her death from carbon monoxide poisoning was contributed to by a "lack of appropriate activity and neglect".
Sarah Lewis said in a tearful statement to reporters: "We sincerely hope that lessons are learnt so that other families do not have to go through what we have had to go through."