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New joint effort to improve mental health crisis care

A new agreement between mental health trusts, paramedics and police could create dramatic improvements for people in mental health crisis. 

The agreement - called the Crisis Care Concordat - has been signed by more than 20 national organisations in a bid to improve care for people experiencing crisis, such as suicidal thoughts or significant anxiety. 

The Concordat aims to cut the numbers of people kept in police cells inappropriately, and even out variations in the standards of care. 

Under the agreement, local services should ensure beds are always available for people who need them urgently and also that police custody should never be used just because mental health services are not available. 

It also stipulates that police vehicles should not be used to transfer patients between hospitals and encourages services to get better at sharing essential need-to-know information about patients which could help keep them and the public safe.

Norman Lamb, Care and Support Minister, said: "When someone has a mental health crisis, it is distressing and frightening for them as well as the people around them. Urgent and compassionate care in a safe place is essential - a police cell should never need to be used because mental health services are not available. For me, crisis care is the most stark example of the lack of equality between mental and physical health.

"The NHS and police already work well together in some areas, but it is totally unacceptable that crisis mental health care is so variable across the country. It is imperative that all areas seek to implement the principles of the Concordat as quickly as possible to ensure consistent care, no matter where you live. 

"Better care for people in mental health crises will not only help those living through their darkest hours to recover - it can also save lives."

Local areas will now sign their own regional and local agreements to commit to working together across services to improve care.

The Crisis Care Concordat challenges local areas to make sure that:

 - Health-based places of safety and beds are available 24/7 in case someone experiences a mental health crisis.

 - Police custody should not be used because mental health services are not available and police vehicles should also not be used to transfer patients. We want to see the number of occasions police cells are used as a place of safety for people in mental health crisis halved compared 2011/12.

 - Timescales are put in place so police responding to mental health crisis know how long they have to wait for a response from health and social care workers. This will make sure patients get suitable care as soon as possible.

 - People in crisis should expect that services will share essential 'need to know' information about them so they can receive the best care possible.  This may include any history of physical violence, self-harm or drink or drug history.

 - Figures suggest some black and minority ethnic groups are detained more frequently under the Mental Health Act. Where this is the case, it must be addressed by local services working with local communities so that the standards set out in the Concordat are met.

 - A 24-hour helpline should be available for people with mental health problems and the crisis resolution team should be accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.