Mental health patients kept in police cells due to shortage of beds during height of pandemic

By Julia Gregory, Local Democracy Reporter

The use of police cells for mental health patients because of a shortage of beds during the pandemic has been branded “unacceptable”.

The issue arose after mental health wards were shut at the Gordon Hospital in Bloomburg Street, Westminster during the pandemic, according to Councillor Tim Mitchell, who has responsibility for adult care and public health.

It saw 60 beds taken out of service as staff were redeployed elsewhere, and many patients were treated in the community instead.

Westminster council social workers said patients were being put in police cells because of the beds shortage.

Central North West London NHS Foundation Trust (CNWL), which owns the hospital in Pimlico, is now preparing to consult on the future of the wards.

It said patients who may have been detained under the Mental Health Act would only be in police cells for a short time awaiting assessment.

Cllr Mitchell told a council scrutiny committee meeting: “It’s not a happy situation for us. I have reports that we are getting daily notifications from social workers on the impact of the shortage of local inpatient beds.

“Sadly that meant that some residents have been kept in A&Es and also police cells waiting for a bed, which is obviously completely  unacceptable.

“We will be having a dialogue with CNWL to make the case that it’s very important to have local beds, be it at the Gordon Hospital or somewhere else. We must have mental health beds in Westminster.

“It is important for friends and family to be able to visit their loved ones, and the further away that is from Westminster the more difficult that is to happen.

“We will be strongly arguing for a reopening of the Gordon or a replacement of the facilities locally.”

Under the Mental Health Act, people can be taken to a place of safety, including a police cell, hospital or their own home for up to 24 hours – with the option of a 12-hour extension.

However, a CNWL spokesman said there can be delays in taking people from a police station to A&E, or a specialist suite for people detained under the Act, but it should not be more than four hours.

CNWL said it could cost £25 million to bring the wards at the Gordon up to the standards recommended by the Royal College of Psychiatry.

Robyn Doran, CNWL’s chief operating officer, said: “There will be formal consultation on reopening the wards at The Gordon later this year or early next.”

She said the wards closed in March in response to the public health emergency.

“It is not safe to reopen them during Covid and they are not fit for purpose. There are better solutions,” she explained.

Ms Doran added: “Across the whole of London there is a backlog of demand for mental health inpatient beds because of Covid.”

The Met Police was asked how many mental health patients had to use police cells in Westminster due to a lack of hospital beds during the pandemic.

There has not been a response.

Pictured top: The Gordon Hospital in Pimlico


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