We need better, more therapeutic options than A&E for people in mental health crisis

Royal College Nursing Congress

Following a debate, delegates voted overwhelmingly to lobby to ensure emergency departments are no longer designated places of safety.

Section 136 of the Mental Health Act allows for someone believed by the police to have a mental disorder, and who may cause harm to themselves or another, to be detained in a public place and taken to a safe place where a mental health assessment can be carried out.

The most appropriate place for this assessment to take place is a specialist mental health facility with appropriately trained staff and an environment conducive to assessment. The majority of assessments occur in such settings.

During the debate, A&E nurses described the noisy and crowded conditions of many emergency departments, and labelled the environment “frightening”, “overwhelming” and “completely unacceptable”.

Jonny Benjamin – who was stopped from taking his own life nine years ago by a stranger on a bridge – shared his experience with Congress. Jonny described how it added to his distress when he was taken to A&E from Waterloo Bridge by police in 2008.

He made the comments during a visit to RCN Congress in Liverpool today, which included a keynote address alongside Neil Laybourn, the man who talked him off the bridge.

Jonny: “I was sitting in A&E with handcuffs on, which just added to the distress. I was distressed, in anguish, waiting to be sectioned. “For me and for others it’s certainly not the most appropriate environment by any means. There must be better, more therapeutic areas where people can go. Police cells and A&E are not that.”