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Trust praised for 'excellence in place of safety' services

28 June 2013

West London Mental Health NHS Trust has been praised for its excellent ‘place of safety’ services for people detained by the police under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983.

The Mental Health Partnership Board for London commended the trust for improving its designated ‘places of safety’ services and ensuring mentally ill people can be seen even when the Section 136 suites are occupied.

A report this week found that too many mentally ill people are being held in police custody for 10 hours on average, despite guidance that states that mentally ill people should be taken to a hospital or ‘place of safety’ such as a Section 136 suite.

The report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorates of Constabulary and Prisons, the Care Quality Commission and the Healthcare Inspectorate Wales stated that in 2011-12 9,000 people were detained in police custody under Section 136 and 16,000 were taken to hospital. Their investigation found that use of police custody varied between from 6% to 76% of the total number of people detained under section 136.

“The trust has worked hard to improve access to ‘places of safety’ and ensure that patients are able to be seen in another room when the safety suite is occupied already,” said Bernadette Hennigan, head of inpatients and deputy director of nursing. “This has really improved how we care for people who may be experiencing a personal crisis and will be feeling frightened, confused and vulnerable.

“A police cell or van is not an appropriate place for people who may be suicidal, suffering from a psychotic episode or experiencing symptoms of dementia resulting in wandering alone outside. They need to be in a place that will help them feel safe and secure. And the police service shouldn’t have to look after people until a ‘place of safety’ is available. That is not good use of police resources.”

Only one person can be seen in each suite at a time and previously police diverted people to an A&E department or waited outside a Section 136 suite with people in the police van.

“This was not ideal and as a result we have changed our practice. We have three ‘place of safety’ suites – one each in Ealing, Hammersmith & Fulham and Hounslow. When the suites are occupied we see people in another room until they are able to be seen in the Section 136 suite.”

The Mental Health Partnership Board’s report entitled “The Operation of Section 136 in London: An action plan to improve” shows care has improved for detained patients.  In Ealing, 13% more people are seen as a result of finding another room to see them in rather than turn them away.