Mental health service deficiencies ‘undermine penal support pilot'

By Barbara Speed

| 08 January 2014

Mental health and penal reform campaigners are concerned a government scheme that will see mental health professionals assess young people's needs soon after arrest could be undermined by a lack of specialist local support.

Young people who appear in court will have their mental health needs assessed as part of a government initiative.

The Department of Health is to fund putting nurses and health professionals in police stations and courts in 10 areas to assess the mental health needs of suspected offenders through the £25m liaison and diversion services pilot in an effort to cut reoffending.

The scheme, which covers both adults and young people aged 16 and 17 who have been arrested, will see professionals refer suspected young offenders to local NHS and council-run mental health and substance misuse services if they need specialist help.

Andy Bell, deputy chief executive for the Centre for Mental Health, said that the scheme could “benefit children and young people enormously” by identifying their mental health needs earlier, but added: “We need services to support people once needs are identified, and mental health budgets for young people have already been cut considerably.”

Frances Crook, chief executive for the Howard League for Penal Reform, is also concerned the scheme will not be backed by health commissioners.

“The government is parachuting in the funding and saying ‘we’ll fund the nurses’ without making sure that local clinical commissioning groups are going to fund support locally,” she said.

Chris Leaman, media and public affairs officer for children's mental health charity YoungMinds, said: “I hope this new link between police and mental health nurses will help bridge some of the gaps that have occurred when young people with mental illnesses have ended up in the criminal justice system without getting the help they need.”  

If successful, the scheme will be extended to the rest of the country by 2017.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said the scheme will help identify mental health problems quicker: “Sometimes young people are kept locked up for a long period of time without access to a mental health professional. This scheme will make sure this situation is avoided.”

The scheme will be piloted in:

•    Avon and Wiltshire
•    Coventry
•    Dorset
•    Leicester
•    London
•    Merseyside
•    South Essex
•    Sunderland and Middlesbrough
•    Sussex
•    Wakefield

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