Under 16’s refused access to urgent mental health care

Topics covered: Ridouts professional advice

A survey carried out by CQC has revealed that many under 16’s are refused access to NHS ‘place of safety’ units when detained by police leaving them  no choice but to place them in police cells.  Place of safety units allow health professionals to assess people who have been detained under section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983.

Figures estimate that approximately 580 children and young people under the age of 18 were detained under section 136 in 2012/13 – 45% of which were taken into police custody.  It is believed that the key reason behind this is the lack of access to health-based places of safety.

The survey also reported that 35% of the health-based places of safety in England do not accept young people under the age of 16.  CQC are calling on providers restricting access to local health-based places of safety for young people to review their local protocols and to ensure that appropriate arrangements are in place.

Care Minister Norman Lamb said it was “unacceptable for a child in mental health crisis to be taken to a police cell because there is no health-based place of safety.” He added that it was imperative that people under the age of 18 are treated in an environment suitable for their age.

Dr Paul Lelliott, Deputy Chief Inspector of Hospitals (mental health lead) said “We undertook this work because the Home Secretary expressed concern in May last year about the number of people who found themselves inappropriately taken to police stations during a mental health crisis.  We are too worried about what appears to be the routine use of police custody as a place of safety.  We are particularly worried about the number of young people affected by this and the fact that so many areas are not served by a health based place of safety that will accept a young person who is experiencing a mental health crisis.”

He added “The Mental Health Crisis Care Concordat states that a local health-based place of safety should be available for young people who are in a crisis.  Young people should be able to use this facility even if it is attached to an adult ward.  They should certainly not be taken to police stations routinely.”

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