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New guidance for police and healthcare workers on use of restraint

Guidance has been drawn up to clarify the role of police in responding to incidents involving patients on mental health wards.
UK police

Guidance has been drawn up to clarify the role of police in responding to incidents involving patients in mental health settings

Until now there was no clear position about when police officers can be called to psychiatric units and their powers if they attend, including the use of physical restraint.

The College of Policing published a Memorandum of Understanding on the issue for police and healthcare workers.

The dossier states that each situation should be 'properly judged on its individual merits'.

It says officers should not be called to carry out restrictive practices connected to purely clinical interventions, such as injections, unless exceptional factors apply.

Wherever possible, every effort must be made

Guidance has been drawn up to clarify the role of police in responding to incidents involving patients in mental health settings

UK police
The College of Policing's Memorandum of Understanding aims to clarify role of police. Picture: iStock

Until now there was no clear position about when police officers can be called to psychiatric units and their powers if they attend, including the use of physical restraint.

The College of Policing published a Memorandum of Understanding on the issue for police and healthcare workers.

The dossier states that each situation should be 'properly judged on its individual merits'.

It says officers should not be called to carry out restrictive practices connected to purely clinical interventions, such as injections, unless exceptional factors apply.

Wherever possible, every effort must be made to use methods of dealing with violence and aggression that do not involve the use of restraint.

Police role

The Memorandum of Understanding says there will be no assumption that the police cannot be involved because the patient is either detained under the Mental Health Act or in hospital, adding: 'The police role is the prevention of crime and protection of persons and property from criminal acts.'

Figures for January 2016 indicate that there were 167 requests for police to attend wards, 37 restraints by NHS staff with police present and 12 restraints involving police.

Commander Christine Jones, national police lead for mental health, said physical restraint can be 'humiliating, terrifying, dangerous and even life-threatening'.

She said that she anticipated the number of demands for police attendance at healthcare settings will not only reduce, but 'we will understand much more about the circumstances when they do occur'.

Confidence to challenge

Ms Jones added: 'I want to make it absolutely clear that the police are not moving away from their responsibilities to investigate crime.'

She suggested the document will provide officers with the confidence to challenge inappropriate requests for help, while remaining ready to support our colleagues in health.

The guidance, which applies to England and Wales, was compiled following two years of work by an expert group chaired by Lord Carlile of Berriew.

Lord Carlile said police cannot be used as a proxy for mental health professionals.

Clear outline of roles

The overall aim of the MoU is to ensure appropriate, dignified care and support for vulnerable individuals, and guard against the deployment of police to clinical settings unless it is unavoidable, Lord Carlile added.

He said: 'The work we have done means every mental health provider in England and Wales now has a single document which clearly outlines their role and the role of others.

'This means the public will get the care they need, rather than control, and at the right time.'

RCN professional lead for mental health Ian Hulatt said the guidance offers clarity for police officers and mental health staff alike.

'It will help ensure the safety and dignity of patients, as well as the medical staff and police officers responsible for providing the care they need,' he said.


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