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Police and health operational staff perspectives on managing detainees held under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act: A qualitative study in London

Arun Sondhi, Emma Williams


Detention under section 136(1) of the Mental Health Act 1983 allows for the police to detain a person from a public place and “remove [them] to a place of safety” if it is “in the interests of that person or for the protection of other persons in immediate need of care or control.” This study examines the interface between police and health professionals covering the conveyance and transfer of detainees to a place of safety and on completion of the assessment prior to inpatient admission. One hundred ninety-six professionals were interviewed across police (n=38), London Ambulance Service (n=2), Mental Health or Emergency Department staff (n=63), and Approved Mental Health Professionals (AMHPs)/Section 12 doctors (n=93). The data was analyzed thematically using a Framework analysis. The conveyance and transfer of detainees was framed by various elements of detainee risk. Healthcare professionals cited clinical risk, risk associated with substance misuse, professional safety, culture of risk aversion, staffing issues, and fear of certain detainee groups as the main issues. For police, risk was discussed within the context of institutional or professional fear of negligence due to an adverse incident. It is argued that the negative framing of risk at this point of the detention process by all professionals creates a negative therapeutic environment for detainees. Whilst safety is an essential part of the detention process, these distinctions problematize the process for a detainee. The article argues for a more balanced framing of risk to establish a more therapeutic interaction between detainees and police and healthcare providers.


Section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983; risk management; safety

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ISSN: 2371-4298 (Online)