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New report - Police Scotland’s use of Place of Safety Orders for people with mental distress

16 August 2018

The Mental Welfare Commission today published a report on police use of place of safety orders in Scotland.

These orders can be used by the police to detain a mentally distressed person for up to 24 hours so they can be assessed by a doctor.

The new report follows a monitoring exercise that showed an increase in reported use of this power, from 130 orders in 2006/07, to 1,133 in 2016/17.

The work involved examining data, interviewing police officers across Scotland, and interviewing people who had been detained by the police.

Colin McKay, Chief Executive, Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland, said:

"Our interviews with the police and with people who had been subject to a place of safety order revealed a high level of care and compassion from the officers involved. We welcome this, and commend Police Scotland's approach.

"Reasons for the rise in numbers could not be determined. It may be due to better reporting of the statistics by the police, although it could simply be due to a greater use of the orders.

"We made five recommendations for change - for NHS Boards and services, Integrated Joint Boards, Police Scotland and the Scottish Government, and will follow those through. We are also aware of new initiatives being taken by Police Scotland in recent months.

"We welcome the priority given in the Government's Mental Health Strategy to people experiencing acute distress. We hope that this will lead to better options being developed by the NHS and local authorities."

Findings included:

  • High levels of care and professionalism shown by police officers towards often highly distressed individuals, who were at risk of self harm.
  • The vast majority of people subject to a place of safety order - 92% - were not judged by the doctors who assessed them as having to be detained in hospital.
  • There were significant variations in the use of, or reporting of, place of safety orders across Scotland, with Highland recording the highest number, followed by Orkney, then Grampian.
  • There seemed to be some lack of local co-ordination in the response to the distressed individual, and often large amounts of police time were involved.
  • Over 95% of removals were to a hospital, with fewer than 5% to a police station.
  • Of the 14 people who were held in a police station, 12 were from one health board area.

Variations in the use of place of safety orders across health board areas may relate to the availability - or lack of availability - of community triage or related services, or may be due to the efficacy of the reporting process in some areas. The report recommends further examination of these issues by Police Scotland.

A full copy of the report can be found here.

Mary Mowat

Mary.mowat@mwcscot.org.uk

0131 313 8786 

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