Police tweet: a cell for mental health patient

In a recent edition of Gair Rhydd I wrote about the use of Twitter by healthcare students. Just after writing this, the Assistant Chief Constable of Avon and Somerset Police, Paul Netherton took to Twitter complaining that there were no mental health beds available for a child who needed help.

I found this story interesting for several reasons. Firstly, the fact that a child (or any person) can be kept in a police station as a place of safety under the Mental Health Act for longer than a person can be detained under arrest without charge is shameful. The police have a really difficult role under the Mental Health Act in that they are responsible for the safety of the public and the person who is unwell. If there are no available hospital beds for the person then a police cell will be safe but the police are not mental health professionals and are not sufficiently trained to help an individual crisis.

If you are in crisis and spend up to 72 hours, over the weekend in a police station, do you really believe that it would be an environment conducive to any kind of recovery? A constant flow of people being brought to cells drunk after a night on the town would be pretty scary to a 16 year old girl, locked in a cell and distressed.

That this came to my attention from Twitter is also interesting. It would appear as though there is a criticism of local CAMH (child and adolescent mental health) services as the Chief Constable is questioning whether it is right that this girl has been left for so long with police. Without knowing full details of services within the area, I would imagine that inpatient services have been cut and restricted heavily in recent years. NHS Trusts are, rightly so, reluctant to place young people in an adult psychiatric ward, general hospital wards or A&E departments are not set up to be able to help those in crisis.

The Twitter account appears to be an official account for the Police force so this is not the voice of an individual but the voice of a professional. I do not think that I would ever be able to, or want to use twitter in this way as a nurse. Talking about patients and their situation or discussing services seems to come close to the line of what the NMC would allow but I really do love this guy! He has had a person in custody, initially arrested but later considered unwell and he wanted her to have help. His team would have tried all they could have to find a bed by speaking with the local CAMHS team but when this failed did something else. The tweet caught the attention of the press and a suitable bed was found.

In the Park Life before Christmas we interviewed Sheila Hunt, the former Dean of the School of Healthcare Sciences. She said that health professionals need to be advocates for our patients, the NMC also state this in the code of conduct for nurses and midwives. This tweet is a great example of a professional advocating for a vulnerable person in his care but it is debatable whether it would have been an appropriate comment for a nurse, for example, to have made. Would it have been against their professional code of conduct or would that nurse have been advocating for their patient in a responsible way?

A recent report by the Health Select committee has found massive problems with children getting access to CAMHS services as these have been hit heavily by financial cuts. A bed, if available may be in a distant part of the country or on an adult ward, waiting times are increasing to access community services, early intervention services are merging or disappearing altogether and all of this while demand for these services appears to be rising.

I saw a comment on twitter in reply to Sky News report of this story questioning if it is newsworthy as it probably happens all the time. YES it is newsworthy! Any time we fail a vulnerable person it is worth examining the situation and learning from it. We should not hide away from the difficult issues such as where is considered a place of safety for those in crisis. It is time to change!