Mental-health patients left in cells and secure unit

Photo: Adrian Judd

Photo: Adrian Judd - Credit: Archant © 2004

A Norwich man with mental-health problems was kept in a police cell for more than 24 hours and then sent to a private hospital 175 miles away for two weeks because there were not any beds for him in East Anglia.

The trust runs Hellesdon Hospital. Photo: Bill Smith

The trust runs Hellesdon Hospital. Photo: Bill Smith - Credit: Archant © 2012

Today, the man's sister and brother tell the EDP of their sibling's ordeal, as the practice of keeping mental health patients in police cells falls under more national scrutiny.

The 40-year-old, who is not being identified, had a breakdown on Friday, November 14.

His sister said he was driving around manically. 'I phoned the police and I kept telling them where my brother was,' she added.

Officers arrested the man for a public order offence and he was sectioned under the Mental Health Act.


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But there were no beds for him at Hellesdon Hospital so he was kept in a police cell in Wymondham until Saturday midnight.

An ambulance then drove him 175 miles to a private hospital near Brighton for two weeks.

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'He did not receive any medication or treatment until he got to Brighton,' his brother said.

His family said the Brighton hospital acted as a 'holding centre' and he was given drugs to sedate him.

Last Thursday he was released.

'They were going to place him on a train to make his own way back to Norwich,' his brother said. 'This was very alarming for us.'

After the family raised their concerns, the crisis team at Hellesdon Hospital organised an ambulance to collect him and bring him back to Norwich.

But with no mental-health beds available, they took him to his flat.

'He later told us that he spent all night wandering around the streets of Norwich' his brother said. 'All through Friday he was in a very bad mental state – no better than before he was sent to Brighton – and it was a struggle for us to keep him safe.'

Hellesdon found a place for him on Friday night and he was let out on Monday.

His brother said the family was 'amazed' he was let out as they still fear for his mental state.

'We know that the NHS is under huge budget constraints, especially the mental health sections, but we think that the level of care my brother has received so far is far from adequate,' the brother added.

The practice of keeping mental-health patients in police cells has been under scrutiny this week after the assistant chief constable of Devon and Cornwall spoke out about a 16-year-old girl with mental-health problems being placed in a cell because there were no beds for her.

Jane Sayer, director of nursing at the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT), said: 'We regret having to send anyone out of our area. It's not the best use of resources for the service user, their families, or our staff and we apologise to those concerned.'

In East Anglia, very few mental health patients are kept in cells compared to other forces.

In 2013-14 in Norfolk, police detained people 25 times in cells under the Mental Health Act.

The figure for Suffolk was 30 and for Cambridgeshire 100.

All three forces detained fewer people than the year before.

Dr Sayer added: 'We are leading the way with our work with Norfolk police to put in place mental-health practitioners who can intervene earlier and try and prevent the need for section 136 to be used.

But those figures do not account for mental-health patients who are arrested for a criminal act.

Care minister and North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said the government was working to reduce the number of people detained under section 136 in police cells, adding it could not be justified in a civilised society.

Norfolk police's chief inspector of harm reduction, Amanda Ellis, said all officers were now receiving a day's training on dealing with people with mental health issues. She added the force had a very strong relationship with the NSFT and it was very rare for mental health patients to be kept in police cells.

'Less than 10pc of people taken in under section 136 are put in custody,' she said.

Last Wednesday, NHS England announced Norfolk and Suffolk would run a trial scheme from April in which mental-health workers will be placed in police stations and courts.

Assistant Chief Constable David Skevington, who is the mental health lead for both Norfolk and Suffolk Police, said: 'We have been working hard to help raise awareness of mental-health within the force and we work with a number of partner agencies to ensure that we treat people who have mental health conditions in the appropriate manner, getting them the help and support they need.'

Do you have a health story? Email tom.bristow@archant.co.uk

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