Government decision puts vulnerable at risk in police custody

In a letter to the Home Secretary, the BMA has warned that some of the most vulnerable people in England could be put at risk by the Government’s U-turn decision to stop the NHS from becoming responsible for the healthcare of those in police custody.

Individual police forces currently provide healthcare for those in custody – often some of the most vulnerable people in society, including those suffering from mental illness and drug and alcohol addictions. The BMA has repeatedly raised concerns about the varying levels of care across the UK, and has called for an improvement to the current standards since 2009.

From April 2016, the responsibility for the provision of healthcare was due to be transferred to the NHS, to help ensure the necessary standards for treating highly vulnerable individuals with distinct healthcare needs.

These standards were to include:

  • Consistency in standard of delivery
  • More robust clinical governance
  • Approved standards of training and experience of healthcare professionals
  • Better integrated care for those detainees whose criminal behaviour is a result of poorly-addressed mental health problems and substance abuse

Writing to the Home Secretary, the BMA has expressed its disappointment at the Government’s announcement that the transfer of responsibility will no longer go ahead. It has questioned the justification for such a U-turn on policy, and has requested an explanation of how the spending review settlement directly affected the decision not to transfer commissioning responsibilities.

Dr Mark Porter, said:

“The BMA is extremely disappointed by the Government’s decision, especially given its close proximity to the intended date of transfer.

“The level of healthcare in police custody varies greatly across the country. Doctors are concerned about what this U-turn will mean to the planned improvements to the service and how this will ultimately affect those receiving treatment and care – often some of the most vulnerable people in society.”

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