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'Street triage' cuts detentions under Mental Health Act

The initiative aims to give people suffering from mental health issues much better initial support on the city’s streets

West Midlands Police

A trailblazing West Midlands triage scheme has only been running for 18 months but has more than halved the number of people detained by police under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act.

The initiative aims to give people suffering from mental health issues much better initial support on the city’s streets.

Richard Clarke from the Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health Trust explained: “Prior to 2010 people suffering from mental ill health on the streets of Birmingham deemed to be a danger to themselves or a danger to others were taken to police cells or to A&E.

“The triage teams help to identify people in need of support who are instead brought to the place of safety where they can get better.”

In the first year of operation the street triage scheme attended 1,871 incidents to conduct assessments, saw its Section 136 detentions reduce from 686 to 333 and physical health assessments at hospital A&E departments reduce by 647.

Mr Clarke, who is the senior emergency care coordinator at the trust, showed the Post around the Birmingham ‘place of safety’ which opened in 2010 at Edgbaston’s Oleaster Centre near the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. Behind a discrete door at the side of the mental health unit is a small but dedicated team of people who assess and support people who have been brought in by the triage teams patrolling the streets of Birmingham and Solihull.

West Midlands Police began trialling the ground-breaking triage teams in January 2014 in unmarked ambulances that are staffed by a police officer, a psychiatric nurse and a paramedic.

The pilot started in Birmingham a, but has been deemed to be such a success that it has now been rolled out in Coventry and the Black Country.

It has seen the number of people detained under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act slashed by more than half in just 12 months.

Mr Clarke said: “We always make sure that somebody is there to meet anybody who is brought in at the doors and we bring them in to a calm and safe environment for assessment.

“We have become really efficient at this and we are now looked on as a national lead.

“Helping people in crisis is the priority for everybody on the team.”

Mr Clarke said more than 1,000 West Midlands officers have been trained to assess whether the triage team should be called in on jobs they are responding to.

Chief Inspector Sean Russell, who leads the Street Triage initiative for the force, said: “We have seen a 51 per cent reduction in the number of people detained.

“That’s more than 300 people in Birmingham and Solihull in the last 12 months. We’ve also stopped nearly 700 people being admitted to A&E.”

West Midlands Police has seven officers assigned to the teams, but had 60 applications from officers who wanted to do the job.

Chief Inspector Russell added: “In the past we have not worked alongside the ambulance service or mental health providers and this has meant too many people ending up in police custody and essentially being criminalised for being unwell.

“This has been highly successful primarily because it means medical experts rather than police officers are on hand to carry out assessments on individuals at the scene.”

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