This week a man went to an A&E department to seek help in crisis. He is a known mental health service user and had become unwell after 3 weeks of not taking medication – he had run out. Arriving at A&E at 10am, he was triaged and they rang for the crisis team to come and assess him.
By 4pm, he was starting to get frustrated with the wait. He had already started protesting about the length of time it was taking and staff were becoming anxious about him and his behaviour. So they called the police claiming, “He’s threatening staff” and “about to kick off”. Five cops on a blue light run across the city later and they were there within 8minutes. The man appeared controlled and calm enough, albeit vocalising his frustration at the waiting times. He used a few naughty words, but not directed at anyone, just in the anxious parlance of someone who is fed up of waiting.
A&E staff indicated that crisis were on their way, that they want the man removed from the department. The attending sergeant asked who the man was fighting and what threats had been made. He indicated that he wanted to arrest the man for the threats and violence. No member of staff would confirm any threats or violence were made at all.
“So he’s frustrated with waiting and said so, perhaps in a grumpy or even belligerent fashion?” That appeared to be so. “and you want him arrested for this because he’s got mental health problems?” Yes. The police contacted the s136 suite: if they arrested him MHA would they assess him? No, apparently not. Why not? Because they wouldn’t, that’s why not. He should be removed to the cells and assessed there. Why?!! Because he’s been threatening and violent towards NHS staff. No, he hasn’t. Yes he has. NO – HE HASN’T. We’re not dealing with him.
The sergeant took the view that it was not necessary to detain the man s136. He wasn’t attempting to leave A&E; to the extent that a police sergeant can tell, he doubted whether the man would be sectioned; he wasn’t posing a risk to himself or others. The decision not arrest was treated with opprobrium by the NHS staff in both A&E and MH camps.
But the law requires that it be necessary, to exercise s136. If the detention is only going to coerce the man through a process with which he is willing to comply if only it gets realised this side of bed-time, then what is the utility? We are probably agreed that there is none.
So he went unarrested and I’m telling the tale of the man who the NHS wanted to see arrested because he vocalised his frustration at a six-hour A&E wait.