20 June 2017
A snapshot monitoring report looking at how
Police Scotland use their power to detain people in police stations
under the Mental Health Act shows wide variations in use of these
powers in different parts of Scotland.
The report, published today by the Mental Welfare Commission,
also appears to show a lower use of these powers in Scotland than
has been found in England and Wales.
Place of safety orders can be used by the police when they find
someone in a public place who they believe may have mental ill
health and may be in need of immediate care and treatment. The
person can be detained in a place of safety for up to 24 hours so
they can be assessed by a doctor.
A local plan identifying a designated place of safety, such as a
local psychiatric hospital, should be in place for such incidents.
A police station should only be used in exceptional
The police should notify the Mental Welfare Commission every
time a person is held under these powers.
Gary Morrison, Executive Director (Medical) at the Mental
Welfare Commission, said:
"Our snapshot three month report shows higher numbers of place
of safety orders than we saw in the annual figures, but we are
mindful that this may be a short term fluctuation. Even with these
changes, Scotland still reports lower levels of use of place of
safety in police stations compared to England and Wales.
"There were very wide variations in reported use of these powers
across Scotland, with notably higher use in Fife, Highlands and
Grampian. These are too wide to be explained by local variations in
the level of mental illness.
"We do not know why this is the case, but we believe that either
reporting processes are failing in some areas, or people are being
removed for assessment without proper legal authority. A third
possibility is that the police are using criminal legislation to
remove people who they think are mentally ill from a public
"Given this lack of clarity, we will take a number of actions,
including liaising with Police Scotland, health boards, local
authorities and integrated boards. We will also carry out a more
detailed exercise later in 2017, working with Police Scotland."
Information provided to the Commission in recent years has shown
an increase in the overall numbers of these orders, from 130 in
2006/07 to 795 in 2015/16. The Commission believes this is due to
Of the 795 instances in 2015/16, the Commission was told of only
seven times where a police station was used as a place of
To seek to understand the figures better, the Commission looked
in more detail at the use of these powers over a three month
period, from May to July in 2016. The data showed higher levels of
use of these powers, and a striking variation in how many times
they were used in different parts of the country. They also showed
an increase in the number of times police stations were used as a
place of safety.
A copy of the monitoring report is available here.
Mary Mowat: 0131 313 8786