Thursday, 28 November 2013

Dyfed-Powys Police - Mental Health: The Way Forward

Last Friday Laura and I attended a Dyfed-Powys Police conference at Police Headquarters in Carmarthen. We were there with our PAVO colleague Claire Powell, the Info Engine Officer, to promote the third sector in Powys. Laura also facilitated a session with two people from Powys who had experience of being arrested and detained by the police whilst mentally distressed.

Mental Health: The Way Forward, was promoted as an event which “will explore ways in which the police can work in partnership with statutory and third sector services in responding to people in mental distress.” Dyfed-Powys is obviously a vast chunk of Wales (Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire & Powys), and we were able to network with colleagues from the statutory sector, including Bronllys Hospital and the Welsh Ambulance Service, as well as other voluntary groups and charities such as West Wales Action for Mental Health and Mind Llanelli. But our main role was to inform those police officers present of the mental health third sector groups in Powys, and the support these groups can provide to people experiencing any form of mental distress.

The event was kicked off by Temporary Deputy Chief Constable Carl Langley. He spoke about the recent joint review – “A criminal use of police cells? The use of police custody as a place of safety for people with mental health needs,” in which a police cell had been identified as the worst possible place for someone with mental health issues. Yet, as Carl admitted, cells are still used routinely as places of safety.

The average time taken to assess someone is 8 hours and 48 minutes. As a high percentage of people enter police cells having drunk alcohol, this time could be much longer. Carl then asked – “If that was my mother/daughter/sister who had experienced an episode which presents as mental health initially, how comfortable am I with that?” He went on to explain that as a police service “we don’t want these people in custody – we want to do the best for them… 9 hours is a long time.” Often the period of custody will exacerbate the level of anxiety experienced by someone already in distress. Recent TV programmes such as BBC’s Panorama and press articles have focussed on these issues.

Dyfed-Powys Police want to try things differently going forward. Carl asked if other statutory agencies present would be willing to share information, say from Care Treatment Plans, to help inform officers early on. Less than 10% of people who are detained in this way
are sectioned, but what happens to the other 90%? Where do they receive support? Whilst Carl recognised that some people would benefit from support from the third sector, he said that the force currently underutilises these resources. And now is time to change that.

Temporary Chief Superintendent Andy John, the force Mental Health Lead, spoke with Helen Morgan-Howard, Equality & Diversity Manager, about Mental Health Street Triage (presentation available here). They began by describing “Section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983 (which) allows a police officer to remove a person they think is mentally disordered and ‘in immediate need of care or control’ from a public place to a place of safety, in the interest of that person or for the protection of others.” Without access to a person’s records a Section 136 was described as “the only option”, despite it making people feel “I was locked up because I was ill.”

Dyfed-Powys Police are now asking:
  • How do we provide better information to officers at the scene of an incident?
  • Is there anywhere else we can take people to?
  • Can we reduce the amount of time people wait to be assessed by mental health practitioners?
  • Can we refer to support elsewhere, eg: third sector?
  • Are there other crisis interventions out there that the police don’t know about? 
Andy described a real appetite to make a difference within the force, and pointed out key areas where change could be made, including staff training, and working more collaboratively with partners, including the third sector.

There was also talk of trialling mental health street triage. In nine force areas in England joint units comprising mental health practitioners and police officers, who have shared access to information, take to the streets together, resulting in better-informed decisions and better outcomes for people experiencing mental distress. There are already plans for a pilot scheme in Carmarthenshire in the lead-up to Christmas, and talks are imminent with Powys teaching Local Health Board about options for 2014. This approach, combined with the creation of new places of safety, away from a police cell, and local to an individual, look like a promising start.

Laura networking at the Dyfed-Powys Police mental health conference
Before leaving the conference for the day I asked someone who had been arrested on many occasions whilst mentally distressed, "where would your preferred place of safety be?" The answer, simply, was “anywhere but a police cell.”

Let’s hope it’s not that hard to arrange.

What do you think of mental health street triage? Let us know your thoughts on this, and any other aspects of policing in relation to mental distress, by commenting below.

Other speakers at the conference included:
Tim Burton, Deputy Police & Crime Commissioner, Dyfed-Powys Police
Tony Thomas, Criminal Justice Link Officer, Hafal
Gareth Coles, Public Services Delivery Officer, Wales Council for Voluntary Action

January 2014 BBC news update - Mental health units to be set up by Dyfed-Powys Police


  1. Very interesting day and wonderful to see that the police & other organisations are wanting to her from people who use the services can be helped in times if distress. Thank you

    1. Hi

      Yes, I felt it was a really useful opportunity for people to listen and also to start talking - and long may it continue. I look forward to seeing how things develop, and we will put up any updates or developments as we hear about them, for example: about the way the mental health street triage will be trialled in Powys.

      Thanks for commenting!


  2. great to hear the police admit that there needs to be change - agree with street Triage but as with other integrated working projects here in Powys i wont hold my breath too long! I also think that there should be similar more local events for Police staff working on the ground in our communities including our PCSO's who do a great job.

    1. Hi Claire

      Agree that street triage does look challenging for Powys, and there was talk on the day of a virtual system because of the sheer size of the county... I don't know what's happening in Scotland - trying to think of similar vast rural counties - the other trials I have come across have been in England. If anyone reading knows of Scottish rural examples of street triage, please let us know.

      Great suggestion for more local events for police staff working on the ground, including PCSOs. Wonder if Dyfed-Powys police would consider this?

      Thanks for the comment.