Written evidence submitted by a serving police officer (POP0063)


1. I watched with interest evidence presented to the Home Affairs Select Committee concerning police priorities on 2nd November, and wanted to take this opportunity to make a specific suggestion on how police time can be released from mental health duties.


2. I have been a police officer for some 24 years.  However, I present this evidence in a personal capacity.


3. Evidence was quite rightly given concerning police time lost to mental health.  What I didn’t hear was a suggestion to amend the Mental Health Act 1983, which is why I write today.  Section 136 of the 1983 Act was written when police custody centres were used to house mental health detainees until a bed could be found.  Therefore, the act intimates that the police remain responsible for the patient until a bed can be found.  The Act is implicit, not explicit, which arguably causes some of the problems we face today.


4. More recently, police stations are no longer used as a place of safety, and officers now escort detainees to a “S.136 suite” at an appropriate hospital.  Once there, the NHS arrange an assessment but often do not actually section a patient until a bed is available.  This can be up to, or in excess of, 24hrs. 


5. The NHS position appears to vary across the country.  Often, trusts argue that the 1983 Act states the police remain responsible for the detainee until the assessment is complete.  Therefore, too often, officers remain ‘guarding’ the patient until they are released or admitted into hospital.  This is always a two officer commitment, to allow one to take a comfort break.  Often, a single S.136 patient can consume twelve to forty-eight hours of guarding effort.  Typically, this is conducted by uniformed response officers who should be on the street responding to the public.


6. To draw a parallel to physical health, the equivalent would be an officer locating someone with a broken leg, taking them to hospital and having to stay with them in emergency department for eight hours until they were finally admitted to an orthopaedic ward.  This would be unthinkable, yet police often remain ‘guarding’ mental health patients whilst they are in the mental health emergency department – the S.136 suite.


7. I would propose an amendment to S.136 of the 1983 Act, to make it explicit that police responsibility for the patient ends at the door of the hospital.  This would then allow the police to pass responsibility to the NHS, whereas currently no agreement can be made with some trusts due to the nebulous wording of the Act.


November 2022