POLICE and health staff are joining forces to try to prevent people on Wearside who are suffering from mental health problems from being locked up.
Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust (NTW) and Northumbria Police have created the Street Triage Team, which will operate in Sunderland from Monday.
Bosses say the new service will improve access to mental health services and avoid unnecessary detentions when using section 136 of the Mental Health Act.
The police can use the power if they believe a person has a mental illness and is in need of care.
The move comes after national research from 2013 showed that 76 per cent of people detained under section 136 were returned to the community after being found not mentally ill.
NTW team manager Emma Bailey said: “Working in this new, collaborative way will achieve the best outcome for patients, ensuring that they receive the right service in a timely way and with the least possible restrictions.”
The new service aims to reduce inappropriate detentions to both hospital and custody.
A team of four police officers and five nurses will be based in Sunderland and will operate seven days a week.
Staff will work with those who come into contact with the criminal justice system to make sure that they receive adequate help and support.
The scheme will run until the end of March and already has the backing of Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Vera Baird.
She said: “We’re very aware that many people who come into contact with the police need to be assessed and considered as potentially needing some mental health support or assistance.
“Supporting vulnerable people is a high priority in my police and crime plan, and by better understanding some of the people committing crimes in our community through this positive partnership work, we will hopefully improve the confidence of our communities and provide much needed help and support.”
Chief superintendent Ian Dawes, of Northumbria Police, said: “The Street Triage Team is an excellent example of partner agencies working together to ensure those detained by officers and thought to have a mental health illness receive an enhanced service.
“The dedicated team of four police officers will work alongside mental health nurses at core hours so that advice and information can be given.
“This will include detail about the person involved and their medical history so they receive the help they need plus any follow-up care required from specialist services.
“Our aim is to avoid detaining people unnecessarily under the Mental Health Act which we are confident will become the case as the scheme gets under way.”