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National strategy needed to end mental health police ambulances

A national mental health strategy is needed to reduce demand on response teams, the Superintendents’ leader has warned.

The Police Superintendent’s Association called for best practice on critical areas including control room responses and custody centres to be made standard in England and Wales.

The call came in response to publication of Department of Health proposals to overhaul mental health legislation that included a pledge to “prevent the inappropriate use of police vehicles as a way to take people to hospital”.

It will be funded by £7m, part of a £150m NHS programme over the next three years.

President of the Police Superintendents’ Association, Paul Fotheringham told Police Oracle: “We know that a police custody cell or police vehicle is often not the best place for a person with mental health challenges. However, our duty of care means that police officers are often those who respond in these times of crisis.

“We have seen examples of fantastic work in forces across the country such as through mental health nurses in police control rooms and mental health and policing partnerships in custody centres, but we need a national strategy for ensuring the right services are available for those in need at the right time, regardless of where they are,” he added.

The need for change was highlighted by an inquest into the killing a 12-year-old-boy, by a paranoid schizophrenic who had been released from police custody two months earlier.

The coroner heard that the decision was based on a Mental Health Act assessment which lasted less than three minutes.

After a nine-day inquest, the jury gave a verdict that Harley Watson was killed unlawfully.

They found that the mental health assessment of Terence Glover was “inadequate and... this led to a failure in possibly detaining the perpetrator under the Mental Health Act”.

Among other factors listed as “possibly the cause or more than minimal contributions to the death of Harley” were police failing to progress their investigation of Glover with “speed and targeted precision”.

They said the “failure of information sharing between the involved services is inexcusable”.

Harley Watson was with friends when he was struck by a car which was driven by Terence Glover along the pavement outside Debden Park High School in Loughton, Essex, in December 2019.

Harley died in hospital later that after afternoon of a severe head injury.

Essex’s senior coroner Lincoln Brookes said that Glover had told police in previous 999 calls that “he might run some school children over”.

Glover was eventually arrested in Luton and transferred to Harlow police station where a Mental Health Act assessment was carried out on 30 September 2019.

He was later released under investigation.

A custody sergeant at Harlow police station had told the court that Glover’s mental health assessment “appeared to take no more than three minutes”.

Mr Brookes said one of the doctors had accepted that the assessment was “fundamentally flawed”.

The two doctors had not seen a report by a community psychiatric nurse and they “should have asked for more information”, Mr Brookes said.

Glover was sentenced last year to be detained indefinitely under the Mental Health Act.

Responding to the verdict, Deputy Chief Constable Andy Prophet of Essex Police, said: “On behalf of the force, I would like to offer my sincere apologies for the failings by Essex Police identified at the inquest.

“As a father of two, I cannot imagine anything worse than the trauma Harley’s family are going through, and the devastation and frustration they must feel," he said.

He made clear the force had already made changes: “It goes without saying that we accept in full the findings of the inquest.

“We have not waited until today to amend the way information is shared between the medical experts in mental health and the police. We have delivered more training to our contact handlers and our colleagues who respond to the calls we receive for help. I’m confident we have learned from this.”

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