The National Assembly’s Health, Social Care and Sport Committee published its report into how section 35 and 36 of the Mental Health Act 1983 are used in practice by police forces in Wales. The Committee heard how police forces in Wales are currently challenged by the number of individuals with serious mental illness who experience a crisis. The Committee heard that an increasing amount of police resources are being allocated to the management of individuals who are experiencing a crisis. The Committee heard that nearly all police forces in Wales have seen an increase in detentions under the Mental Health Act.
Concerns were raised by the Committee that a “revolving door” situation has arisen where individuals are repeatedly detained under the Mental Health Act. Evidence indicated that often individuals are discharged after assessment as they do not require urgent mental health services. To avoid these repeat detentions the Committee highlighted the need for a focus on early intervention strategies and crisis planning that would provide families and individuals with knowledge of where to access support.
A reduction in those detained in police custody under the Mental Health Act was recognised. The Committee were reassured that police custody is no longer used as a place of safety for those detained, with the majority of individuals brought to a health based place of safety. All Health Boards in Wales have a health based place of safety where those detained under the Mental Health Act can be brought to in a time of crisis.
Despite all Health Boards having such designated safe places it was noted that provision varied across Wales with chair of the Committee Dai Lloyd AM calling for a “more consistent approach to mental health crisis care and services across Wales”. Criticisms of the provisions were heard in evidence. A representative the Welsh mental health charity Wallich stated that “the police are far more helpful and responsive when a client is in a crisis than the Crisis Team”.
Policing is a reserved matter which means that Westminster has retained the power to legislate on this area. As a result of this the Welsh Government cannot issue directions on how the police are to respond to situations involving mental health which is an example of the difficulties that arise when a reserved matter such as policing and a devolved matter such as health care come into contact.