West Midlands Police broke the law by locking up a man experiencing a “severe mental health crisis” for five days.
The media has been told the individual was put in a cell in the Oldbury custody suite for his own safety due to delays in transferring him to mental health services.
The region’s Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Simon Foster has accused NHS mental health services of failing to provide the right support, and said police were being left to “pick up the pieces of a broken system”.
Speaking at a meeting of the PCC’s strategic board, Chief Constable Sir David Thompson said the force had held the individual “unlawfully” and was now focused on making sure it didn’t happen again.
He said officers did not have the required medical training or access to the right facilities but were increasingly put in positions where they had to deal with mentally ill individuals.
Sir David said: “We as a police service will always do what is right to protect individuals and the public, but it cannot be right that the inability of statutory agencies to discharge their statutory responsibilities requires the police to act unlawfully to do that.
“This particular case is requiring us to look hard at what our response should be to make sure this does not happen again. Regrettably, the police dealing with mental health issues is growing as an issue.
“We will always have to confront issues of mental health, because of the nature of the work we do, but we are not medically trained and we do not have the facilities to manage and care for people with the dignity that they require when going through a medical crisis.
“Increasingly we are seeing excessive requirements.. times of waiting for assessments, and the inability of necessary provision to properly assess people and ever decreasing numbers of police officers deployed to maintain and manager people.”
He said West Midlands Police would now “engage quite strongly” with mental health agencies. “This is not a position to be repeated,” Sir David said. “It is not a position that I’m prepared to tolerate any further, and the force will look at any possible means to avoid this happening again.”
Mr Foster said he was concerned that “chronic underfunding” of mental health services and a lack of adequate mental health care was “continuing to adversely impact upon people suffering from mental ill-health and on policing”.
“This month a person experiencing a severe mental health crisis had to spend days in the custody of West Midlands Police, because of an unlawful failure on the part of NHS Mental Health services to provide a suitable secure bed, carry out an assessment of needs, prepare a care plan and provide mental health staff to manage the risk,” he said.
“According to a report on policing and mental health, by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Policing in November 2018, the police are too often the first port of call, have to work beyond their duty and there is an overall lack of emphasis on early intervention and community care.
“In short, the report concluded that the police are having to pick up the pieces of a broken mental health system. That is no good for those suffering from mental ill-health who need expert medical help or our overworked and under-resourced police service.
“In recent years there have been significant improvements in the way that West Midlands Police deal with people suffering from mental ill-health.
“However, the Government needs to urgently prioritise investment in mental health services and amongst other matters, we need new standards for mental health care enshrined in the NHS to ensure access to treatment is on a par with that for physical health conditions.”
NHS England has been contacted for a comment.