Mentally ill people in Manchester are being locked up in police cells because NHS cuts are forcing mental health units to close.
Lack of available beds and insufficiently trained hospital staff are some of the reasons for criminalising the mentally ill.
Under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983, police have the power to hold someone in custody until a mental health professional can psychologically assess them.
Nationally, police estimate that at least 20% of their time is spent dealing with the mentally ill in this way.
“Let’s not forget they’ve not committed any offence,” said Greater Manchester’s Police and Crime Commissioner Tony Lloyd.
“They are in a police cell simply because they are unwell and the NHS either can’t or won’t take them in. It’s shameful. Worse – it’s scandalous.”
Between April 2012 and March 2013, there were four suspected suicides of individuals who had been under Greater Manchester Police custody.
These suicides occurred within two days of their release, according to the Police Complaints Commission.
Nationally, the number of suspected suicides in police custody increased from 39 in 2011/12 to 64 in 2012/13.
Of these, almost two-thirds of the individuals were reported to have mental health issues – seven were detained under the Mental Health Act.
This June an inspection report by HM Inspectorates of Constabulary and Prisons revealed that mentally ill people are being turned away from hospitals and secure units across the country, forcing police to house them in cells.
The reason for detainment in the vast majority of cases was that a person had indicated they were intending, or actually had attempted, to commit suicide or self-harm.
Alan Hartman is vice chair of Manchester Users Network (MUN), an advocacy group for service users and carers.
He claims that users are also being processed under Hospital Order Section 37, which brands them ‘Mental Disorder Offenders’.
This gives police the right to hold them in custody until a hospital bed becomes available.
Edale Psychiatric Unit, near Manchester Royal Infirmary, was closed in late 2011 in a cost-cutting move by Manchester Mental Health and Social Care Trust.
The closure of the Edale Unit has meant that even when patients are taken to hospital, the standard of care they receive has fallen.
Patients within the city centre are now taken to the mental health unit at Park House in North Manchester General Hospital, which an MUN service user said has a ‘damning record of the way they treat patients’.
In contrast to Edale, where patients had their own rooms, some patients at Park House are forced to share.
Another user, who did not want to be named, said: “We’ve gone from state-of-the-art to mend-and-make-do.”
An NHS worker at the North Manchester Clinical Commission Group board meeting on September 11 said that the issue was ‘not about a reduction of beds, but about a merging of bed stock’.
Referring to the conditions at Park House, Mr Hartman spoke of a patient who committed suicide because, according to the patient’s relatives, he was ‘bored’.
Two years ago the Independent Police Complaints Commission found that there had been 20 deaths in Greater Manchester Police custody in the past decade, more than any other force in the country.
According to figures revealed by the Office for National Statistics, Manchester had the highest suicide rate in 2010, at 14.3 people per 100,000 people.
Picture courtesy of Publik15, with thanks.