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Revealed: Mental health pledge to be funded from existing budgets

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A pledge by the home secretary to invest £15m in new health based places of safety to detain people experiencing mental health crisis will be funded from existing budgets, LGC’s sister title Health Service Journal can reveal.

  • Theresa May announces £15m investment in new places of safety for people with mental health crisis
  • Home Office confirms to HSJ the funding will be from existing budgets
  • CCGs would have to continue funding services after 2016-17

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The money, to prevent people sectioned under the Mental Health Act from being detained in a police cell, will also only be available for 2016-17.

After then, clinical commissioning groups will be required to continue further funding of services to reduce the number of people being detained by police. Last year more than 4,000 people were detained in a police cell under the act.

Section 136 of the act says police can detain someone they believe may have a mental disorder, and who may cause harm to themselves or others. They should be taken to a safe place where a mental health assessment can be carried out.

HSJ has learned the funding, announced by Theresa May in a speech to the Police Federation this week, will be provided by NHS England from funds already earmarked for mental health.

A Home Office spokesman confirmed to HSJ the money will only be available from the next financial year and was to “enable commissioning arrangements to be established and demand to be properly assessed”.

He said: “We committed in our manifesto to increasing the number of health and community based places of safety. The arrangements announced [this week] are to ensure specific provision for, and rapid progress on, this issue.”

A new Policing Bill announced in the Queen’s Speech will change the law to prevent the use of police cells for section 135 and 136 detentions.

The bill will also reduce the 72 hour maximum period of detention for the purposes of medical assessment.

Andy Bell, deputy chief executive of the Centre for Mental Health, welcomed the funding. He added: “Mental health is underfunded by such a degree [compared to other areas of healthcare] that while £15m sounds a lot, it isn’t a huge part of it. We know the underfunding goes into billions of pounds.

“The problem with crisis services, the availability of beds and problems when people go into accident and emergency and get a poor service, is symptomatic of a wider difficulty that we don’t put enough into mental health full stop. That is leading people into crises that could have been prevented.

“We know from a number of surveys, that it’s not necessarily the absence of a physical place of safety that’s the problem, but whether those places are adequately staffed, accept people who are intoxicated or whether there are places of safety appropriate for children.”

Places of safety under pressure

A study by the Care Quality Commission, published in October, identified 162 health based places of safety in England, with most situated in accident and emergency departments.

The CQC found too many places of safety were turning people away or requiring them to wait for long periods in police custody because they were full or had staffing problems.

A quarter of providers told the regulator they did not believe there was enough local provision. The CQC found the use of police cells was directly linked to the lack of health based places of safety.

It also found too many excluded young people or those who were drunk or had disturbed behaviour, while too many clinical commissioning groups did not properly monitor the pathway or provision of health based places of safety.

  • More than one in 10 places of safety reported people were not able to access the unit at least once a week because it was already occupied.
  • Fourteen places of safety reported people were not able to access the unit quarterly or more frequently because of staffing problems, including one place of safety that said this happened almost daily.
  • Seven places of safety reported that if the unit was already occupied, the person would wait in the vehicle in which they were brought to the place of safety until it became free.
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