Appropriate Use of Section 136

I’ve got a feeling I’ve written about this before, several times … but never in one post.  It has become necessary because of various things written over the last few weeks about s136 MHA and purported rises in its use.  I wrote recently about a 135% reported rise in the use of s136 MHA, reported in official NHS figures.

Dr Martin Webber started the debate off, I responded to add support and some more perspective to his sensible questioning of the figures and his views about why they may have come about.  Since then, I’ve been reading various comments about that debate.  The latest came to my attention just now and it includes another remark about the “low number” of people who are detained under s136 MHA and then admitted to hospital as a result.

Let me be totally clear:  whether or not someone is admitted to a psychiatric hospital following detention by the police under s136 is not the only relevant indicator of whether the s136 authority was used “appropriately” in the first place.

Here are just a few scenarios:

  • Person arrested s136 and sectioned under the MHA or admitted to hospital informally – can we all agree that this suggests the police were correct to use s136 in the first place?
  • Person arrested s136 and assessed and then referred to or re-referred to a community mental health team.  This could either be their CMHT, a Home Treatment Team or Assertive Outreach, depending on the circumstances and the patient and previous contact with the NHS – can we all agree that if the officers felt compelled to detain immediately to mitigate a risk to others OR to ensure that persons best interests, this suggests appropriate use of s136?
  • Person arrested s136 after acting in a way which was consistent with a lay person’s perception of behaviour that could be attributable to mental disorder and after assessment is referred to a health care professional.  This could include their GP for lower level mental disorders or to other kinds of healthcare professional … for example it is not rare to hear of patients with epilepsy or diabetes being detained s136 and then the nature of the health problems leading to a non-mental illness orientated health referral.  Can we agree, that if the officers were acting in good faith in thinking a person was suffering mental disorder from their behaviour and presentation at the point of detention, that this was appropriate use of s136 because the legal criteria for detention were met?

My favourite story ever, was the undiagnosed diabetic in Dudley who would have died had officers not detained him s136.  Had they left him as a slightly vague sounding guy having a pint in the sun, he would have collapsed there some while later.  As it happened, because he was “inappropriately” detained because of his diabetes, he collapsed into the arms of paramedics who had been called to the s136 detention and then rushed to A&E where his life was saved, according to the A&E consultant who treated him.  Ask those officers about his presentation that influenced their detention decision and they are describing things that many people argue are potential indicators of mental disorder.


Well, if detention were illegal in the first place, it would be inappropriate.  I’ve written before about mental disorder and emergencies in private premises.  Where officers manufactured the presence of someone outside their private dwelling so that they could be detained under s136, it would be illegal and inappropriate.

What else? – well, officers detaining individuals where they did NOT have a reasonable belief that the person concerned was, in fact, suffering from a mental disorder.  I’ve heard healthcare professionals and AMHPs representing that officers have locked up drunk in the High Street for bizarre behaviour where it is far more likely that alcohol is the source of their unusual conduct or presentation

What of these figures about admission, then?

I’ve read in the articles linked above, that “as few as 25%” of people detained were admitted.  Am I being too protective if I assume that the other 75% are implied to have been inappropriately detained because they were not admitted?  What I want to know, is how many of those 75% were both of the following:

  • Detained by the officer knowing that the detention was illegal or not really necessary.
  • Detained by the officer whilst presenting in a way where it was unreasonable on the part of the officer to suspect that the person was suffering from mental disorder.

This very debate took place in one borough of my force several years ago.  The consultant psychiatrist concerned was disturbed that “just” 40% of those detained were admitted.  I asked how many of the remaining 60% were referred to a mental health or health care professional OR were acting in a way where it would be a reasonable ‘shout’ for a lay person to suspect that they were suffering from a mental health problem.  He didn’t know … nor was he prepared to find out actually, he insisted those were irrelevant issues.

Irrelevant?!  A person detained s136 and referred to a CMHT for non-acute mental illness or to their GP was not relevant to determining relevant usage by the police?!  It subsequently became necessary to do a larger piece of work in another area of my force where we found the following outcomes.

  • Approximately 40% were admitted under the MHA or informally.
  • Approximately 40% were referred to a healthcare professional for an identified, unmet need.
  • 20% were released without any further action –

Of this later category, half were behaving or presenting in a way were NHS staff agreed that it would have been a reasonable presumption on the part of the officer that the person was mentally ill.  In other words, 90% of people were appropriately detained and in 10% of cases, it was questionable.

Now! – shall we devise a series of exercises about what is a crime and test the NHS?  I’ve got a series of examples involving fairly hideous badness, none of which are crimes.  At the heart of this is the question of how trained we want our police officers to be as almost quasi-psychiatric nurses.

We need to raise the standard of this debate and we need far, Far, FAR more research.

Winner of the President’s Medal,
the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

Winner of the Mind Digital Media Award


All opinions expressed are my own – they do not represent the views of any organisation.
(c) Michael Brown, 2019

I try to keep this blog up to date, but inevitably over time, amendments to the law as well as court rulings and other findings from inquests and complaints processes mean it is difficult to ensure all the articles and pages remain current.  Please ensure you check all legal issues in particular and take appropriate professional advice where necessary.

Government legislation website –


7 thoughts on “Appropriate Use of Section 136

  1. The use of 136 detention where the person is not then Sectioned is no different from arresting a suspect and not charging them.
    There is a reason why it’s done, a process to be followed, questions to be asked.
    At the conclusion you charge / section or release. In the case of 136 there is another option to refer to support and mental health Care outside of a hospital.
    The unanswerable question is what would happen if the police didn’t detain a person who they felt was displaying signals of a mental crisis.
    “I’m sure they’ll be alright” really isn’t a valid option.
    Agree with everything you say in this blog Michael.

    1. A very relevant blog.
      If we want to see a reduction in the number of sect 136 MHA detentions then more needs to be done by appropriate professionals to work with people before they reach crisis point and police also need to be provided with medical information about individals at the time they need it, to enable them to make the best decision they can. Officers can only make decisions on the information presented to them at the time.

  2. The answer is unbelievably easy
    There needs to be a mental health emergency service – NOT the Police, NOT Abulance and NOT A&E

    Mobile emergency crisis team workers from the local Mental Health Trust can be tasked to attend. Where necessary, they will only attend with Police Officers to support them. The crisis workers have the luxury of their specialist MH training, access to the subject’s mental health history etc etc

    I see Response Officers attending more calls as a result and I am a response officer !
    So I am not trying to pass the buck in any way

    What it means is that better more informed decisions are made which I hope means less patients going to a Police cell, which we all agree is terrible for all but the most high risk

    1. Furthermore, we should never want police officers trained to be quasi-psychiatric nurses
      That is not appropriate for the role of Police Officers and is bound to end in tragedy

      Ultimately only those who have a professional qualification in such a specialist subject and full access to the subject’s medical history should be making the final decisions

    2. Of course Crisis Teams are a kind of (non blue light) emergency response and see people in need of urgent care in their thousands day in day out. They see them at patients’ homes, in GP surgeries, hospitals and Police stations, but they don’t see them on the street so unless you give them the power of a constable nothing much will be different if your plan is implemented. I should say that we look at the luxury of Police officers who can radio for back up, have stab vests, pepper spray and all the other support, while we only have note books 🙂

  3. I remember back to my time with my tutor. We went to a ‘concern for welfare’ where we forced entry to a property. Inside I found a man presenting all the signs of mental illness, he was pacing, head down, banking, not making sense. 5 minutes in the back of an ambulance and out stepped an elequent, well educated gentleman who couldn’t thank us enough for our actions. I had no idea diabetes could do this to someone. A truly eye opening experience for me and one I will always remember. It does however bring to notice how limited our first aid and mental health training is.

    Your post raises a few points for me in relation to 136:
    I would be interested to know how many times 136 is used on the same person. I can think of a couple of examples in my area alone where we repeatedly pull the same person of bridges, out of roads or take razor blades of the same self harmers. Now there is argument that self harmers don’t intend suicide but if they refuse treatment after causing themselves serious injury police are left with little option.

    It may also be worth examining the effect of drugs has played on the increase in 136. It has been my experience that cannabis use and the stronger variants of cannabis has led to massive increase in persons with mental health problems, particularly in the young. This brings me on to the next point, the use of 136 when ppl are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Now I know mental capacity act can be used however persons causing a danger to themselves/others when under the influence are simply let go when sober with the issues blamed on substance misuse (one could argue this is a mental health problem itself). This does not make the detention less valid and it does nothing to prevent the person doing the same the following week

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