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Overuse of police cells for detaining people with mental health problems “intolerable”

BMJ 2008; 337 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.a1635 (Published 11 September 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a1635
  1. Andrew Cole
  1. 1London

    Twice as many people are being detained in police cells for assessment under the Mental Health Act as are being taken by police to hospital, research from the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) shows.

    The study, which covers England and Wales, found that 11 500 people were detained in police custody under section 136 of the Mental Health Act in 2005 compared with 5900 who were held in hospital. Government guidelines state that police custody should only be used as a last resort.

    The study, which collates national data on the use of section 136 by all 43 police forces for the first time, found wide variations. Although Cheshire and Merseyside Police recorded just one detention per 10 000 people, for example, Sussex Police detained 277 per 10 000 and Devon and Cornwall 174 per 10 000.

    Almost two thirds (61%) of detainees were male and 4% were younger than 17. Four per cent of detainees were black. When compared with the general population the rate of …

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