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Cops give mental health help

February 09 2014
New scheme will help homeless people struggling with poor mental health and trouble with the law

Homeless people struggling with a combination of poor mental health and trouble with the law could be helped by a new scheme which will place psychiatric nurses in police stations.

The pilot scheme, which aims to cut reoffending and help people get access to treatment, will mean that people will be assessed for mental health, substance misuse and learning disability support needs when they come into contact with the police and the court system.

Ten areas of England – including Dorset, Merseyside and Sussex – will trial the scheme, and if the approach is successful, it will be extended across the country by 2017, the Department of Health said.

Homeless people face a disproportionately high rate of mental illness and contact with the police. As many as 70 per cent of homeless people have mental health needs, according to a 2011 study by Homeless Link. Meanwhile, 15 per cent of people in prison reported being homeless before they were put in custody, according to a 2012 government survey, whereas only three and a half per cent of the general population reported ever being homeless.

Norman Lamb, the care services minister, said people with mental health issues who enter the criminal justice system are too often diagnosed only when they reach prison.

“We want to help them get the right support and treatment as early as possible. Diverting the individual away from offending and helping to reduce the risk of more victims suffering due to further offences benefits everyone,” said Lamb.

Mental health campaigners also welcomed the move.