Health providers in Harrogate have approved proposals to push ahead with the closure of the second of North Yorkshire’s current four 'places of safety', which aim to keep people in crisis from having to be held in police cells.
But Healthwatch North Yorkshire has voiced its concern, with operations manager Nigel Ayre saying it would lead to people “being subjected to unnecessary and traumatising detention” when they were most in need of care.
A similar facility in Northallerton is already due to shut its doors in January.
Mr Ayre said North Yorkshire had once been the only place in England with no health-based places of safety but a “great deal of positive work has been done in recent years” to open up four such locations.
He said: “One is currently scheduled for closure and these proposals could reduce these numbers to only two for a population of 600,000-plus in the largest geographical county in England.
“This can only lead to a significant increase in the number of people in mental health crisis being subjected to unnecessary and traumatising detention when they are most in need of care.”
North Yorkshire’s Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner, Julia Mulligan, also voiced concern, saying the plans would leave “police officers to pick up the pieces”.
She said: “The providers seem to suggest that those people in dire need of support in Harrogate will have to either go to York or Scarborough in the future, which isn’t good enough, especially when you consider those services themselves are often already in use and therefore unavailable, or revert to using police cells as a matter of course.
“The situation is made worse still when you factor in the closure of the very same facility in Northallerton, further reducing the current provision for emergency mental health care.”
The Harrogate and Rural District Clinical Commissioning Group said the suite, at Harrogate District Hospital’s Briary Wing, was under-used and the move formed part of wider changes to focus on preventative care.
Dr Peter Billingsley, its Clinical Lead for Mental Health, said: “We are very clear – nothing will close until there are alternatives in place.”
He said discussions were under way about “developing a range of options to create places of safety to ensure that people get the support they need when they need it"
"In addition, with greater investment in community based care we will be able to provide additional early services to help prevent people reaching crisis, he said.
The development comes just a week after police inspectors warned that forces across the country have been left to “pick up the pieces of a broken mental health system”.
Stretched forces are responding to tens of thousands of cases that would be better dealt with by other agencies, HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) said.
Describing it as a “crisis”, HM Inspector of Constabulary Zoe Billingham said: “Over-stretched and all-too-often overwhelmed police officers can’t always respond appropriately.”