Last year around 300 mentally ill people were put in cells at Harrogate police station as there was no where else for them to go.
People sectioned under the mental health act were often held in police cells, or even taken to mental health beds out of the County in Hull or Teeside, Deputy Chief Constable Tim Madgwick of North Yorkshire Police said.
This week saw the official opening of a place of safety assessment suite at Harrogate District Hospital which will provide a place of safety for vulnerable adults detained by the police, under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act.
Patrick Scott, head of service, adult mental health, North Yorkshire said: “The suite provides vulnerable people with the opportunity to have their mental health needs assessed in a suitable health environment.
“Previously these people would have been detained in a custody suite, even if they had not committed a crime.”
Chief Constable Madgwick said this will mean mentally ill people will have better access to the care they need.
He said: “The figures are coming down, but having this place will make a huge difference. Previously people were having to go into custody cells or be taken out of the county, which was quite traumatic.
“Police officers were trying to care for them while dealing with other people in custody they were also trying to keep safe.
“It will be a relief, officers have found it frustrating, they know they haven’t been able to give the correct care the person needs.”
Since June eleven people have been sectioned in Harrogate and taken to the new suite at Harrogate hospital where a team of specialist staff are on call 24/7 to help care for the patient.
Harrogate and District Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) has invested £450,000 in mental health services, including the new place of safety.
Dr Rick Sweeney, the clinical lead for vulnerable people at the CCG said: “We have wanted to do this ever since the Clinical Commissioning Group was set up.
Mental health services have previously been severely underfunded, but we are starting to invest.
“It is time we saw parity between mental health and physical health services and funding.”
It is the fourth such service to be opened in the North Yorkshire area with other place of safety suites in Northallerton, York and Scarborough.
Earlier this year The Yorkshire Post revealed how mental health nurses are to be based in a Leeds police control room to give advice to local officers and reduce the number of vulnerable people being taken into custody.
The 12-month pilot scheme will see two nurses based within the Leeds District Police Control Room at peak times during the evening, seven days a week.
It comes on the back of a ‘mental health triage’ scheme in the city where mental health nurses go out on the streets with officers responding to 999 calls.
Police say they are not best placed to assess and support people who are mentally ill, but still spend “a significant amount of time” managing the risk they pose to themselves and others.
Despite efforts to create other ‘places of safety’ for people detained under section 136 of the Mental Health Act, charities say “shocking numbers” of mentally ill people are still being held in police cells.
In the year to October 31, 2014, a total of 1,390 people were detained under the Mental Health Act in West Yorkshire, 32 of whom were under 16. In the calendar year 2013, police ‘sectioned’ 1,646 people.