A GOVERNMENT minister has written to police and health chiefs in Dorset criticising the number of people detained in cells under the Mental Health Act.

Norman Lamb says there were 115 occasions in 2013/14 where police stations in the county were used as “a place of safety.”

And he has told Dorset’s Chief Constable, Debbie Simpson and Ron Shields, chief executive of Dorset Healthcare University NHS Foundation Trust to “put steps in place to put an end to any inappropriate use of police cells for those detained under section 136 of the act.”

Mr Lamb’s letter was sent on November 24 and was also jointly from the minister for policing Mike Penning.

And Mr Lamb told the Daily Echo in an interview at the Department of Health last week that the situation was “wholly unacceptable.”

Only last weekend the chief constable of Devon and Cornwall was forced to speak out after a 16-year-old girl was held in a cell for 48 hours because there was no hospital bed for her anywhere in the UK.

In his letter, Mr Lamb, the Minister of State for Care and Support and a campaigner on mental health issues wrote: “We are sure you agree that in a civilised society, people should not be taken to police cells when at their most vulnerable unless this is absolutely necessary.

“This is precisely the time when they should receive appropriate and compassionate care and support and be treated with dignity and respect, not criminalised and stigmatised.”

Liberal Democrat Mr Lamb says the government’s Mental Health Crisis Care Concordat outlines that police stations should only be used as a place of safety “on an exceptional basis.”

All police forces, healthcare trusts and other agencies are expected to sign the concordat but Dorset has not yet done so.

Mr Lamb says he will “name and shame” areas which don’t.

In his letter he says he wants to know what progress is being made in Dorset on “these crucial issues.”

The Echo understands that the healthcare trust is formulating a response.


A Dorset Police spokesperson said: “We agree that custody is not the right place for mentally ill people and we only use it as a place of safety as a last resort when a more appropriate place is not available.

“Dorset Police is working together with partner agencies and has recently launched a pilot scheme in which mental health practitioners are assisting police officers on patrol.

“The 12-month pilot Mental Health Street Triage service was launched in June this year and is running across Dorset on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights from 7pm to 8.30am.

“We have received a letter regarding Section 136 of the Mental Health Act and the use of police cells, which we understand has been sent to all chief constables and NHS chief executives.

“We are in the process of responding back directly to Mr Lamb and Mr Penning.”


Mr Lamb spoke to the Daily Echo last week in London on a range of mental health issues as part of our campaign, They Deserve Better.

Last month, in a week-long series of articles, we highlighted a number of problems, including failures by CAMHS (Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services) especially in dealing with young victims of sexual abuse.

Mr Lamb also spoke to the mother of one such teenager whose story we told.