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Mental health teams to be based in police stations

DEATH IN CUSTODY: Sean Rigg

MENTAL HEALTH teams will now be posted in police stations in a bid to prevent incidents like the death of Sean Riggs who died while in police custody.

The move comes after years of campaigning against police practices when dealing with the mentally ill and concerns about the proportionally high rate of deaths in custody in the black community.

Black people are 50 per cent more likely to be referred to mental health services through the police, and 50 per cent of those who die in police custody are “mental health users”.

Last November, an Independent Commission on Mental Health, led by chair Lord Victor Adebowale, met with the police crime committee to discuss a set of recommendations designed to prevent deaths in custody.

Included in the 28 proposals was the creation of a policy and training scheme on restraint, the posting of mental health nurses “with experience related to offenders” at all police stations and the employment of full-time mental health liaison officers.

Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, who will today (June 6) tour one of the new custody suites, said mental health is “top priority” for his force and is highlighting the progress made in the form of the new Liaison and Diversion project.

Commissioned by NHS England (London), it places mental health teams in custody suites, so that people who enter custody with suspected mental health issues, can be assessed and referred for treatment at the earliest opportunity.

The Met says the service is now provided in the majority of their custody suites and promises that full coverage will be available across the force by the end of 2014.

“We are changing the way we think and deal with people who are vulnerable,” Hogan-Howe said. “My officers recognise better now than ever that people who have mental health issues need the right access, help and support to services.

“Our officers are not experts but we have helped them recognise mental health issues and how to get the right help."

He added: “We have come a long way but there is still more to do and we will continue to work with our partners to improve how we respond to those with mental health needs. This report gives us options to prevent police officers coming to conflict with people who only need health care.”

Adebowale praised the move. He said: “It’s good to see that mental health has been recognised by the police as core business. It’s also a core concern of the public.

“This is not an end to the process – it’s the beginning of building a police force that can respond to the needs of all people.”

Dr Alison Frater, head of Public Health and Health in the Justice System at NHS England in London, said: “A high percentage of people who come into contact with the police and justice system have complex health and social care needs, which are not always identified by police officers.

“This has meant that people often don’t get the support and treatment they need in a timely manner.”

She added: “We are committed to continue our work with the Metropolitan Police Service in order to reduce health inequalities and improve the physical and mental health of those that come into contact with front line police officers. It is through this approach that we will help reduce re-offending and increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the criminal justice system, whilst improving health outcomes."

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