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Mentally ill should not be detained in police cells, say MPs

Increase in use of the Mental Health Act, report finds

Jo Carlowe

Friday, 06 February 2015

Politicians have today described the detention of people with mental health problems in police cells as ‘a scandal’. 

The Home Affairs Committee report* today called for a change in the law so that police cells are no longer deemed a ‘place of safety’ under the Mental Health Act.

According to the Committee, about 6,000 adults and 236 children with mental health issues were detained in police cells last year due to a shortage of space in NHS hospitals. 

The Committee’s policing and mental health report states that: ‘too many’ NHS clinical commissioning groups are failing in their duty to provide enough hospital ‘places of safety’ that are available 24 hours a day. It also found a ‘clear failure’ of NHS clinical commissioning groups to provide for children with mental health issues and described the practice of taking people experiencing a mental health crisis to hospital in a police care as ‘shameful’.

Today’s findings follow a report published yesterday by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) showing that the use of the Mental Health Act has continued to grow.

In its latest report, Monitoring the Mental Health Act in 2013/14, the CQC shows that 23,531 people were subject to the act at the end of 2013/14 - an increase of 6% from 2012/13. 

The data also shows that black and minority ethnic people continue to be overrepresented in the detained population. The CQC has reiterated its call for providers to undertake ethnic minority monitoring of their activities.

Additionally, the mental health inpatient system was again shown to be running over capacity. The number of available mental health NHS beds in Q4 2013/14 had decreased by almost 8% since Q1 2010/11. 

This is putting Approved Mental Health Practitioners under extreme pressure to admit people under the Act just obtain a bed, states the CQC.

In 2012/13, there were reported 21,814 uses of section 136 in England, which rose to 24,489 in 2013/14, an increase of 12%.

The report, which marks the 30th anniversary of the MHA, raises concerns about bed availability and the increasing number of patients being detained far away from home. 


* Policing and mental health. Eleventh Report of Session 2014–15. House of Commons Home Affairs Committee. Published on 6 February 2015.

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