Met Police custody healthcare a 'major problem'

Sean Rigg Image copyright Family handout
Image caption Sean Rigg died from cardiac arrest in police custody

The Met Police is struggling to provide adequate medical staffing to assess and treat detainees in their custody, according to a new report.

A London Assembly committee said there was a 60% shortfall in the number of nurses providing medical assessments and care for people in custody.

Assembly member Joanne McCartney said any failure in duty could lead to "catastrophic consequences".

The Met said the wellbeing of people in custody was "a key priority".

'Public outcry'

The report, from the London Assembly's Police and Crime Committee, found there was a "major problem" with recruiting and retaining nurses working in custody suites.

It stated medical professionals working in custody suites said this shortage had "increased the risk of a death or serious harm in police custody".

Ms McCartney, who is chair of the of the Police and Crime Committee, said: "When the Met takes a person into custody they become responsible for their health and well-being, any failure in that duty can have catastrophic consequences for detainees and stain the Met's reputation.

"If a hospital had a 60% shortfall in nursing levels there would rightly be a public outcry. The Met must act now to address this understaffing."

The Met is more than 100 nurses short of the 198 it wanted to have in place by 2012, according to the report.

It also reported that in the current financial year, more nurses had left the service than have been recruited.

The committee is calling for a new strategy for increasing the number of custody nurses and an independent review of the content and appropriateness of their training.

The report also cited concerns over the Met's oversight of the Forensic Medical Examiners service after the inquest into the death of Andrzej Rymarzak who died at Chelsea police station in 2009. Dr Hisham El-Baroudy who treated Mr Rymarzak was cleared of a charge of gross negligence manslaughter in January 2012.

In an independent audit commissioned by the Met following the trial, Dr El-Baroudy was found to be one of about 40 medical practitioners hired through a locum agency by the Met, who did not have the relevant training and experience in custody healthcare.

'Duty of care'

The Met said it did not accept its current healthcare arrangements had increased the risk of death in police custody, adding there had not been a death in its custody since 2010.

In a statement, it said: "We take our duty of care extremely seriously and recognise that we are often dealing with some of the most vulnerable individuals within our community."

The force was examining interim options to maximise the use of the nurses they employed, as well as working with the NHS to ensure a smooth transition when the healthcare of detainees is handed to the NHS, it added.

There have been 49 deaths in or following police custody in the Metropolitan district since April 2002, the report said.

Last month, the Independent Police Complaints Commission reopened its investigation into the death of 40-year-old Sean Rigg, who had schizophrenia and died at Brixton police station, south London, in August 2008. The inquest into his death found officers had used "unsuitable force".

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