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Nurses to aid police with mental health offenders


Nurses are to join police officers sent to deal with incidents involving people with mental health problems who were likely to be “sectioned”, under proposals unveiled by the home secretary.

Addressing the Police Federation annual conference in Bournemouth last week, Theresa May said one of the biggest drains on police time was dealing with people with mental health problems.

She highlighted research from Staffordshire that estimated police officers spent 15-25% of their time dealing with people with mental health problems.

“If that’s true across the country, it’s the equivalent of around 26,000 officers,” she said. “This is quite clearly unacceptable.”

Among a number of proposals for tackling the problem, she announced plans that would see mental health nurses accompany police officers to “incidents which look likely to result in a detention under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act”.

“I want to build on the best work police officers and health professionals are doing together on the ground”, she said, noting that the approach was already being used in street triage services in Leicestershire, Cleveland and Scarborough.

“Initial results are showing better outcomes for vulnerable people, quicker solutions for police officers and reductions in the use of Section 136,” she said.

“I want to see the scheme rolled out across the country,” Ms May told delegates, adding that she had agreed additional money to set up four new street triage pilots this year in areas identified by the police.

George Coxon, chair of the Mental Health Nurses Association professional committee, said he was “positive” about the idea because it acknowledged mental health as an “important theme”. 

“We still see a lot of stigma and critical ostracizing judgements from ‘non-mental health aware’ front line services,” he said.

He highlighted the importance of more collaborative and partnership working between and across frontline care and response agencies, such as the street triage type pilots.

But he cautioned that “capacity and resource” had to accompany any expansion of the approach, warning that mental health nurses “can’t keep doing more without additional support”.

“Rolling out learning and applying such schemes in other areas needs proper resourcing,” he said. “In a climate of ‘doing more for less’, it is unreasonable to expect already stretched services to deliver extended and increased service without adequate additional funding and capacity.”

Ms May also said she has been working with health secretary Jeremy Hunt on other measures to improve the availability and quality of health-based “places of safety”, where mental health patients could be taken instead of police stations if judged to be a danger to the public or themselves.

These included an urgent assessment of the availability of health-based places of safety, to be followed by an inspection of their quality by the Care Quality Commission and the filling of any gaps in their provision as “quickly as possible”.  


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Readers' comments (13)

  • “But police officers are not doctors"

    Nurses aren't doctors either Home Secretary......

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  • If a person is 'likely to be detained under the Mental Health Act' then, depending on the Section considered, I would hope that it would be at least one doctor (ie a Psychiatrist) and an Approved Mental Health Professional that would be present as well as any Community Mental Health Nurse as without the first two no Section will be assessed for or recommended.

    As a guess though it looks like this is referring to times when police are called out by the public due to concerns about how someone is acting. They already have specigic powers under the Mental Health Act to remove people considered to be some form of danger to themselves or others under Section 136 which empowers them to take the person to a designated 'place of safety'. This then starts the clock ticking for a more formal assessment to be made. Quite where a nurse going along for the ride fits in is not at all clear to me. Who will make that initial assessment to say that this alerting call will lead to an assessment for detention. Circular argument this as we've just been told that the police can't do it, therefore a nurse to attend all callouts?

    The most terrifying words here are that Theresa May is working with Jeremy Hunt to address this...

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  • where are the psychiatrists?

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  • if the police are taking those with mental health issues into custody then there should always be a suitably qualified doctor, custody nurse and social worker available.
    why this doesn't already happen is pretty disgraceful.
    everyone taken into custody should be assessed properly for any medical conditions, mental health issues, substance abuse, pregnancy etc. etc.

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  • when I did my three months obligatory psy. during my training donkey's years ago a patient was bought in to the locked unit who had been brutally kicked in the back and abdomen and traumatised by the police causing severe kidney damage. He suffered Huntingdon's Chorea and had been seen 'misbehaving' in a telephone box but appeared to have no history of mental health problems other than possibly those associated with his condition such as depression.

    This was in the 1970s and I would expect with advances in knowledge and training the police would have moved on from then, although having shot dead a delusional young man with a mental health disorder on the steps of the cathedral in my town one wonders. However, it was a tricky situation as the young man was brandishing a toy gun and maybe it was difficult to evaluate the risks from a distance and put more lives in danger. such stories of the treatment by the law of vulnerable individuals and a lack of understanding make me deeply sad and indicates the need of better awareness and training and the presence of staff qualified in this area.

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  • and where are these RMNs coming from?
    do nurses have the power to section people?

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  • NT it is deeply offensive that your headline reads "mental health offenders" when in fact you're talking about people with a (potential) mental illness. You could have re-headlined it, or pointed out to the Press Association how offensive their headline is. Without meaning to be 'yours outraged', I'm shocked that it got through your editing process and feel that it simply perpetuates the myth of anyone with a mental illness as 'bad'. You are meant to be a Nursing publication, not the Daily Mail.

    I don't really see how the RMN (assuming that they use RMNs instead of RGNs, probably stupid of me) will fit into this process. The Police are the ones with the S.136 power and even if the RMN was an AMHP, they would still need a S.12 Doctor. TBH, with the high profile 'failures' and ridiculous media hype, you can bet that many people would say 'yep, not well, needs further assessment, bring them to the 136 Suite/local Place of Safety'.

    Looking at different Places of Safety is a good move - quite a few patients I talk to loathe going to A&E due to reaction from some staff and the general environment. If you were experiencing a florid psychotic episode, being in a noisy, bright, unfriendly and busy A&E really wouldn't be helpful. The specialist 136 suites at different hospital sites are a great resource. More of them nationally please!

    Once I'd stopped laughing at a Tory saying that MH centres should be fully staffed (any ideas why we're constantly short staffed people?!) to meet the needs of patients, my blood turned cold. May & Hunt are working together to sort this issue out?! That's one more RMN per day off the rota to be replaced with an HCA but with some really pretty flow charts to show us all how it will work in their Utopia.

    Better now ;)

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  • seeing that Hunt spent a day in A&E maybe he could broad his experience further by working in this area as well?

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  • Out of control (and possibly armed) individuals who pose a risk to others or themselves must be controlled and removed to place of safety.

    Many of these individuals will be under the influence of alcohol/drugs and it will not be possible to undertake a pysc .evaluation until these people are sober.

    The place of safety must be secure and most A/E depts cannot offer secure facilities which can offer the patient/ other members of the public and staff a safe environment.

    Whilst I would agree that out of control people should medically examined ASAP to exclude injury/epilepsy/diabetic states etc this process must be undertaken within a controlled environment.

    I fail to comprehend what value a nurse would be in a potentially violent stand off situation which the police are trained to manage.

    The police if they have reason to believe someone's behaviour is related to their mental health have an appropriate section which they can evoke.

    Those who would criticise police handling of these potentially dangerous situations should stop talking and demonstrate to the police how they would deal with the issue ---

    I am sure the Police would be delighted to be in the position of being observers to the do-gooders de-escalation skills !

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  • How come when we do something to do with patient care we have to back it up with publisized reseach based evidence? Where & what is this "initial results" so we can read it for ourselves. We cannot pick & chose which bits of evidence we want to implement.
    Yet again people who don't know making decisions for us without even us seeing the evidence.

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