Mental health trusts have signed an agreement with police and paramedics in a bid to improve emergency support for people facing a mental health crisis.
The Crisis Care Concordat has been launched by ministers to drive up standards of care for those experiencing problems such as suicidal thoughts or anxiety.
More than 20 national organisations have signed the agreement including NHS England, the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
Organisers hope it will reduce the number of people detained inappropriately in police cells and drive out variations in standards across the country.
The concordat sets out the standard of care that people should expect to receive if they suffer a mental health crisis, and gives details of how emergency services should respond.
It challenges local services to ensure beds are always available for those who need them urgently. It also states that police custody should never be used just because mental health services are not available, and that police vehicles should not be used to transfer patients.
The document encourages services to improve the way they share essential information about patients that could help keep them and the public safe. It also says a 24-hour helpline should be available for people with mental health problems.
Announcing the concordat, care and support minister Norman Lamb said: “When someone has a mental health crisis, it is distressing and frightening for them as well as the people around them.
“Urgent and compassionate care in a safe place is essential - a police cell should never need to be used because mental health services are not available.”
He added: “For me, crisis care is the most stark example of the lack of equality between mental and physical health.”
Royal College of Nursing chief executive Dr Peter Carter said: “Nursing staff are at the frontline and have a key role to play in the delivery of crisis services.
“More must be done to ensure that a patient experiencing a crisis in mental health receives the same level of attention, care and support as a patient experiencing a crisis in physical health,” he said. “For example, out-of-hours mental health services are woefully lacking and improved provision is urgently needed.
“The concordat sets out a vision for bringing about positive changes,” he added. “There are already exciting developments underway such as mental health nurses working alongside police officers on street triage schemes and in police stations and we look forward to seeing the results of these pilot projects.”
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