Bassetlaw: Suicidal patient ‘locked in police cell for 14 hours’ due to beds shortage

Police cells
Police cells

A woman who claims she was locked in police cell due to a shortage of psychiatric beds says mental health care reforms are ‘desperately needed’ in Bassetlaw.

The married mum-of-two, who has struggled for years with mental health conditions, including post traumatic stress disorder, has spoken out to help improve care.

She has threatened and attempted suicide several times, and says she was once arrested and locked in a police cell for 14 hours because there were no psychiatric beds available in the county.

She claims local mental health services are severely lacking and risking lives.

Her comments come after a national initiative was launched to end injustices experienced by people in mental health crisis.

The Crisis Care Concordat, devised by the Department of Health, has asked organisations like the police, health and social care agencies to work in partnership to help mental health patients.

Locally, services will need to ensure a 24 hour mental health crisis helpline, and 24/7 crisis resolution team are accessible, that police custody and vehicles are not used as an alternative to mental health ward admission, and that police attending mental health incidents know how long they will have to wait before being relieved by a healthcare professional.

“I have been in a situation where I’m told ‘you are now being arrested on suspicion of committing a public order offence’, because I was suicidal,” said the woman, who asked to remain anonymous.

“I was arrested on suspicion of making threats to kill as I had a suicide plan and I was locked up for 14 hours until a bed was found.”

“You are taken to a custody suite, detained like a criminal, fingerprints are taken. You feel criminalised for being unwell.”

“Patients then have to wait, sometimes for hours on end, for a mental health worker to come and do an assessment, before being sectioned and taken to hospital in handcuffs. That’s traumatising for anybody dealing with a mental health problem.”

“Police feel it’s cruel but they have no choice.”

“I remember one police officer who was taking me into custody spent a good half hour with me before putting me in the car and he held my hand on the journey.”

“But he shouldn’t have had to do that. The police are not babysitters and they are not trained in mental health.”

Our case study said she welcomed the challenges set by the Crisis Care Concordat but said the action points seemed vague and needed more detail.

Local services are asked to improve mental health crisis care in the following ways:

- Having health based places of safety and beds available 24/7 for people in mental health crisis

- Police custody should not be used because mental health services are not available

- Police vehicles should not be used to transfer patients

- Timescales should be put in place so police responding to mental health crises know how long they have to wait for health and social workers to respond

- Services should share essential information about patients, like history of physical violence, self harm, drink or drug abuse, so they can get the best care

- A 24 hour helpline should be available for people with mental health problems

- A crisis resolution team should be accessible 24/7

She continued: “Mental health services in Bassetlaw claim there is crisis provision in place out of hours. This consists of helpline number through to ward B2, the acute adult mental healt admission ward at Bassetlaw Hospital.”

“Patients will be talking to a healthcare assistant who is not qualified to do counselling and they will then be diverted to A&E.”

“The A&E departments are then getting clogged up and nothing has improved for the individual.”

“Mental health patients need care in the community, not in A&E.”

“In my experience, if you call the crisis team and they are on finishing time or they can’t come out, and no one from the community mental health team is available, the police come out.”

Our case study said she is now receiving mental health support in a neighbouring district and things have improved for her.

Her life is getting back on track and she is no longer needing the support of crisis teams.

“I know mental health services are not good throughout the country but I really do think mental health services at Bassetlaw is in need of a big cultural change. It is like a postcode lottery. Where I am now the care is amazing,” she said.

“I think there needs to be a lot of consultation with patients, with other multidisciplinary agencies and other areas. We need to be looking at how other areas are treating patients and how they can implement change inspired by that.”

Nottinghamshire Healthcare, which runs mental health services in Bassetlaw, said it welcomed the Crisis Care Concordat and was committed to its principles.

“Our Bassetlaw Crisis Resolution and Home Treatment Team operates everyday providing a service that is in a safe and least restrictive environment, including care at home provided by trained mental health professionals,” said a spokesman.

“Should a patient’s needs increase, they may be cared for on Ward B2 at Bassetlaw Hospital, which is an acute adult mental health admission ward. The 24 bed unit offers care in a safe and supportive environment with a dedicated multi-disciplinary team.”

“We work closely with the police to provide psychiatric assessments in our 136 suite at the Millbrook Mental Health Unit in Mansfield. Rather than being assessed in a custodial setting this is a place of safety for vulnerable people detained under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act. Irrelevant of the outcome of the assessment, the individual will be supported with the next step of the care pathway.”

Nottinghamshire Healthcare said it was also developing a new Mental Health Liaison Psychiatry Service within Bassetlaw Hospital’s A&E department.

It is hoped that by assessing patients’ mental health needs this will prevent them being admitted when they don’t need to be, and they can be pointed towards the appropriate service.

The spokesman added: “It will also support patients admitted to acute wards and contribute to their timely discharge. The service builds on the success of those already provided at the King’s Mill Hospital and Queen’s Medical Centre.”

“We are working closely with our commissioners in Bassetlaw to look at ways we can enhance our community services to include more early intervention, enhanced support at home and a rapid response to people experiencing mental health relapses.”

“We are also developing a more robust community assessment and treatment service to help prevent service users needing to access emergency and out of hours services.”

Finally, the Trust said it was committed to providing the best quality care to the people who use its services, and takes any concerns or complaints very seriously.

It welcomed the opportunity to discuss and address any issues a patient had with the care they have received.