Street triage scheme involving Radlett centre helps hundreds in mental health incidents

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Police cells were once the first port of call for local residents experiencing a mental health crisis.

But they have been kept empty for the second year running, as the result of a successful ‘street triage’ programme that places people into the care of a recently-built mental health unit, rather than a cell.

Kingfisher Court, at Kingsley Green, a mental health and learning disability site in Harper Lane, Radlett, has accepted 642 adults and 22 under-18s, after they were detained under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act from 2015-16.

This is the result of a successful street triage pilot, based on a partnership between Herts Police and clinicians from Hertfordshire Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust.

Two clinicians travel to incidents in a dedicated police car to incidents where mental health is a factor – professionals provide direct support to police officers dealing with people who are vulnerable because of their condition.

The project is being hailed as a success, as according to statistics recently published by the National Police Chiefs’ Council, just one other force also took no one into custody as a place of safety – Merseyside.

By comparison, West Yorkshire detained 269 people in police cells under s136; Avon and Somerset held 242 people, while South Wales detained 192 over the same period.

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Section 136 of the Mental Health Act allows police to detain someone who is in a public place, who they believe has a mental illness and who may cause harm to themselves or others.

Chief Inspector Fiona Gaskell, vulnerable adults lead at Herts Police, said: “Police cells are not an appropriate environment for someone who is fundamentally vulnerable, and we are delighted that no one has had to be placed there in two years.”

The foundation trust’s director of quality and safety, Oliver Shanley, said not only was it “good news for the people of Hertfordshire”, but that it was “important to reduce the number of people who need the police to use their powers under s136”.

Professionals from the trust offer guidance such as how best to alleviate any psychological distress that people might be experiencing.

Apart from helping with the street triage service, the trust is providing training for frontline officers, to ensure they have a more clinical perspective of mental health issues.

Also, it is developing other new models of support, and 24/7 care to prevent people being detained under s136.

David Lloyd, Herts Police and Crime Commissioner, said: “Police officers will very often come into contact with people in mental health crisis, and sadly in many other areas of the country, they may well be locked up in a custody unit while their condition is assessed.

“However, these people are unwell, albeit sometimes only temporarily, and a cell is not an appropriate environment for them, nor does it reflect the kind of treatment they need in order to recover.”