Mental health in police and custody settings

Thanks to Chief Inspector Belinda Davies and her colleagues for giving me their time for my latest conversation about local health and care services. The conversation focussed on issues around mental health in policing and custody settings. This is a subject that sparked my interest after a recent visit to the custody suite in Merthyr Tydfil and in listening to evidence during the Health Committee Inquiry on suicide prevention.

This work spans both devolved and non-devolved responsibilities, but the health and mental health aspects of this work require support from our NHS and Social Services. It is clearly an important area of work.

Effective partnership work

One of my main takes from this conversation was that partners need to work ever more effectively together around non-crime demands, especially issues caused by medical or social situations so that people can receive support in the right settings.

The range of interventions that the Police now organise in a custody setting is impressive. For example in the northern unit in Merthyr the Police have provided desk space for the Samaritans to assist in tackling crises and in providing people with support while in custody. Likewise with the provision of drug and alcohol services to try and help people in custody. The Police carry a duty of care to each person, but on occasions that can absorb a lot of officer time which is not then available to other front line duties.

It was interesting to consider the relationship between various Welsh Government strategies and those in which the police are active participants (Public Service Boards) and those in which they are not (strategic boards for Social services and wellbeing).

Breaking the cycle – everyone’s responsibility

As a society we must face some fundamental questions about the cycle of offending and reoffending that occurs for some people. “Lock them up” is an easy slogan, but it is not a solution to many of these non-crime problems we face in our communities. Neither is it very cost effective. We must find better solutions in our own communities and provide the pathways that help people overcome their problems.

Place of Safety

We discussed Section 136 of the Mental Health Act and work around places of safety. For adults that could be a Police cell and the Police organise support from health care professionals.

If a person is under 18 that ‘place of safety’ can no longer be a Police station, but that does now require effective partnership work to provide suitable facilities. An officer being used as a safe point of company while health and social services sort out alternative provision can however absorb resources.

It was interesting to hear ideas about Section 136 referral suites (rather than custody) which might provide more effective places of sanctuary for people needing support in a crisis.

Crisis and assessment  

For the police, like other mental health services I have spoken to, the focus is on getting a person to an assessment and signposted to a service in as effective a way as possible. But some of the responsibilities fall in to ‘grey areas’ particularly for people who may have vulnerabilities but are not with the police for a criminal activity.

Extending services

It was good to learn that the South wales Police will have a mental health nurse in their public service centre from December 2018 to assist in the assessment of crisis calls and hopefully help refer people to suitable pathways. This replicates a service already covering Rhymney (Gwent) previously.

It was also interesting to learn about insurance and professional issues if the police are involved in conveying a person to a mental health service if the person concerned is not formally in custody.

We discussed the increased use of psychoactive drugs and the pressure being placed on services. New operations are now in progress to intervene and offer individuals drug referral and rehabilitation and I will be keen to see an evaluation of this work in due course.

Dynamic responses

Once more I gained a clear impression of the dynamic nature of policing and the demands this can place on health and social services to meet the demands for mental health support.


All in all some time well spent in learning more about the complex nature of the work which the Police can do.

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