Quick Guide (Northern Ireland) – AWOLs

  • This quick guide is an attempt to “operationalise” some complex issues but you should refer to your own force policy and your supervisors for specific local requirements.
  • There is a legal duty to report all AWOL patients to the police who are “Dangerous, especially vulnerable or subject to Part III MHA”.
  • “Part III MHA” means patients who entered the mental health system via the criminal courts, often described as “a44″ or “a44/47″ patients; or as a “hosptial order” or “restricted hospital order”.
  • Otherwise, reporting missing persons is discretionary to the mental health trust.
  • Detained MHA patients – there is a power to redetain under a29 MHO
  • Voluntary / Informal patients – there is no power to redetain. THey must be assessed afresh under the MHA.
  • If the whereabouts of the patient are known to the MH trust from which they are missing, it is the duty of the MH trust to repatriate them or go to assess them.
  • It is the responsibility of the NHS to commission conveyance arrangements to do this.
  • If support is sought from the police, this should be because there are RAVE risks and it is the role of the police to support, not replace the NHS.
  • There is no power to hold people in police cells after detaining someone as AWOL under the MHO.
  • It is the legal duty to return the patient to the hospital from which they are missing or to which they have been recalled.
  • Bed management issues arising from the re-detention are then a matter for the NHS, through their contigency arrangements and duty managers, if needed.
  • These should be sorted out at the hospital concerned, with ongoing police support if there are RAVE risks.
  • The power of arrest under s18 does not have a power of entry attached.
  • If entry needs to be forced in order to exercise it, a warrant under a129(2) is required.
  • Police officers may apply on their own for a s129(2) warrant, if they need to.
  • It would be better if the application or execution of the warrant were accompanied by a mental health professional.

The Mental Health Cop blog

Badgewon the ConnectedCOPS ‘Top Cop’ Award for leveraging social media in policing.
won the Digital Media Award from the UK’s leading mental health charity, Mind
– won a World of Mentalists #TWIMAward for the best in mental health blogs

ccawards2013 was highlighted by the Independent Commission on Policing & Mental Health
– was referenced in the UK Parliamentary debate on Policing & Mental Health
was commended by the Home Affairs Select Committee of the UK Parliament.


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