Mental health place of safety set to end custody ordeals for hundreds

Julia Mulligan, Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire
Julia Mulligan, Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire
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NORTH Yorkshire is finally to open a “place of safety” for people with mental health problems after concerns grew over the hundreds of detainees being held for hours in police cells every year.

The county was the only area of the country without a designated facility for people to be taken after being sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

Nearly 500 people deemed in need of immediate care after being sectioned were held in police custody across North Yorkshire last year, prompting fears their lives were being put at risk.

Home Secretary Theresa May has now announced that a “health-based place of safety” will be open in Scarborough by October and two further facilities established by the end of March.

Announcing the proposals in a speech to the Police Federation conference, Mrs May said: “Police officers have many skills, but they are not in a position to be psychiatrists diagnosing and treating mental illness.”

North Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Julia Mulligan, who has been campaigning for changes to provision in the county, said she was “very pleased” by the decision.

She said it would mean people detained under the Mental Health Act would now be treated more quickly and by health professionals rather than being held for hours in police cells.

Mrs Mulligan said: “It is disgraceful North Yorkshire is the only place in the country currently not to have such a vital facility.

“We now need to keep a very close eye on developments in Scarborough and other parts of North Yorkshire to ensure these new facilities are suitable, and not just a sticking plaster which will not be sustainable in the long term.”

A total of 482 people were detained in police custody under the Mental Health Act across North Yorkshire last year, with a further 84 held in the first three months of 2013.

Plans to create a place of safety in North Yorkshire have been under discussion by the local NHS for six years. Proposals put forward in April 2011 failed to materialise because of a lack of funds.