Norfolk

Mental health patients and police face 'scandalous' wait for treatment

Norman Lamb Image copyright UK Parliament
Image caption MP Norman Lamb said the results of a Freedom of Information request into police time spent dealing with mental health patients left him "horrified"

"Scandalous" waits to get mental health patients access to treatment are letting down vulnerable people and wasting police resources, an MP said.

A Freedom of Information request by Lib Dem MP Norman Lamb found some patients detained by police faced long waits for doctors, beds or ambulances.

Recent figures showed the number of cases dealt with by police had gone up by a third nationally.

North Norfolk MP Mr Lamb said finding a solution was "a matter of urgency".

The former health minister he felt "horrified and disgusted" when he saw the figures.

"This is scandalous and a waste of police resources and badly lets down some of the most vulnerable people," he said.

Mr Lamb's FOI request found one man detained by police spent 68 hours in custody due to ambulance delays.

Another, who was arrested for assaulting two police officers in King's Lynn was assessed as needing to be admitted to a psychiatric unit but "no suitable mental health beds were available locally or nationally", Norfolk Police said.

He was eventually found a bed 49 hours later.

Image caption The Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust is based at Hellesdon Hospital on the outskirts of Norwich

Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, which runs mental health services in the area, said demand had "steadily increased over the past five years", putting pressure on all of its services.

"We are all doing our very best within a high-pressured health system which has many conflicting demands for all of our resources," the trust's medical director Bohdan Solomka said.

The FOI also revealed officers regularly had to use their patrol cars to transport patients to hospital as ambulances weren't available, and that in nine highlighted cases, Norfolk police officers spent 225 hours dealing with the situations.

A spokesman for the Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk said the reports were "deeply shocking" and said police had "neither the time nor the training to act as an alternative to inadequate local mental health services".

The East of England Ambulance Service said said the service had suffered a "lack of funding" and needed "greater investment in order that we can recruit more staff to make improvements for our staff and patients".

The Department of Health spokesman said that since 2012, there has been a 90% reduction in the number of people being held in custody who should be in NHS care and it is investing £30m to improve places of safety for people in crisis.

"We expect anyone with a mental health issue to be able to get the help they need," he said.

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