Home Secretary at alternative place of safety launch

Theresa May: an important step in ensuring people suffering a mental health crisis get the help they need.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The Rt Hon Theresa May MP

I am delighted to be here today and to welcome you all to the launch of this very exciting pilot. It is exciting because it marks a further step in ensuring that people suffering a mental health crisis get the support and help they need, and deserve, and moves us forward in a really big way.

I want to say a big thank you to Rachel Kundasamy and Thomas Gillespie of the Richmond Fellowship and Sarah Gates of Sussex police force and all those who have made this happen. Your willingness to work together to find an alternative health-based place of safety has been excellent and is a model we can take forward elsewhere.

Thanks must also go to Marian Trendall of Sussex Partnership NHS Trust, the Sussex Clinical Commissioning Group and NHS England and other partners who have worked together for over a decade.

Everyone here today knows just how important this launch is.

First responders

When vulnerable people with mental health needs suffer a breakdown, or a psychotic episode, we know that very often the police are the first to be called on to respond.

Now the police are not medics. They are not social workers. Their job is fighting crime and catching criminals.

But all too often, because of a lack of access to health-based places of safety, somebody does find themselves detained under Section 136 in a police cell, for want of somewhere else to go.

This is not good for people undergoing traumatic and frightening experiences. And it is not a good use of police time.

People experiencing a mental health crisis need a bed, not a cell. They deserve a proper assessment of their needs in a proper healthcare setting. They need compassion, medical help and a safe – non-intimidating – place to go to.

I know that a lack of suitable places has been a particular problem here in Sussex. You have among the highest numbers of Section 136 detentions of any police force in the country, and yet you suffer from a shortage of accessible health-based places of safety.

That’s why – working with the Department for Health – we do need to increase the number of health-based places of safety, so that there is always somewhere other than a police cell available.

First rate

And it is why this pilot is vital. It’s not just about places of safety, it’s about alternatives. It demonstrates how charities and non-government organisations can work effectively with the public sector to fill the gap and provide such provision. And in doing so, they bring with them a wealth of understanding, expertise and energy. It is a genuine alternative.

What I have seen here today – the facilities you have developed – are truly first rate. The environment is altogether far more suitable and welcoming; it’s been thought through and I have been particularly struck by the way the room has been designed to be homely and calming.

This is a fantastic step in the right direction, not only for Sussex, but in providing an example for other areas too. As Home Secretary, I have consistently said that the way we treat the most vulnerable in our society – at the moments when they are most in need – is of the utmost importance. That is why I have been determined that we do change the police response to people with mental health needs.

At the Home Office, along with the Department for Health and NHS England we have been working on a wide-range of measures from street triage pilots to a trial scheme to test a new model of liaison and diversion. We have published a Mental Health Crisis Care Concordat, to ensure that all those involved in supporting someone in a crisis work together to improve the system of care.

And alongside a review with the Department of Health of Sections 135 and 136 of the Mental Health Act, I have asked Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary to undertake a specific thematic inspection on the welfare of vulnerable people in police custody. This report will be published imminently.

Excellent work

This is an area that I know many police and crime commissioners are also playing an important role and in many places they are doing some excellent work.

I know that in addition to this alternative health-based place of safety, Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne and Chief Constable Giles York have supported the extension of the East Sussex street triage scheme into the west of the county. I visited some time ago and saw the impact the scheme is already having.

We have seen just how successful such schemes can be in reducing the number of Section 136 police custody detentions, and ensuring that people get the right support and care. In Eastbourne your street triage scheme has reported a 30% reduction in Section 136 detentions. So I would also like to wish you every success with the expansion of your scheme.

I hope that the pilot we are launching today will be just the start of the changes we can make. That the example set by the Richmond Fellowship and Sussex Police in finding an alternative health-based place of safety will inspire others to seek solutions where traditional services are not available.

It shows what can be done when people pull together and work to make a difference – that was the first thing we talked about when I arrived this morning. You’ve all sat down together and done something truly exciting.

I wish you good luck and all the best with this pilot.

Published 9 March 2015