Together expands provision of specialist mental health teams in police stations and courts to West, North West and Central London

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Together will deliver a new model of support in nine more London boroughs that aims to help break the cycle of offending by making sure people with mental health problems and vulnerabilities such as addictions or learning disabilities get the support or treatment they need.

The pilot liaison and diversion service, commissioned by NHS England, aims to help avoid unnecessary jail terms where bail decisions or a community sentence may be more appropriate, giving individuals the best chance of breaking the cycle of offending.

Delivered by Together in partnership with West London Mental Health NHS Trust, Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust and Barnet, Enfield and Haringey Mental Health NHS Trust, the extension of the scheme will build on work undertaken in North and North East London since April 2014 as part of the first phase of the trial to make this crucial service available across the capital.

The extension of the service will see specialist liaison and diversion teams based in ten custody suites, six magistrates’ courts and two crown courts across West, North West and Central London. The total population covered by the whole London trial site will rise to over 4.5 million people.

The scheme will ensure that people get the support they need as early as possible, and that their mental health needs or vulnerability are taken into account as part of criminal justice procedures, including at sentencing. Liaison and diversion practitioners will assess the needs of vulnerable individuals in magistrates’ courts, crown courts and police custody settings, and the four partner organisations will work closely together to ensure that individuals have access to care and support services. Community Support Workers will work alongside individuals throughout the process of engaging or re-engaging with relevant mental health services and other local services to help them tackle issues such as housing, addictions or debt.

Our mental health practitioners will prepare reports for court to give the judiciary vital information to help them make decisions about bail and remand. This helps to avoid unnecessary jail terms where bail decisions or a community sentence may be more appropriate, again giving individuals the best opportunity of breaking the cycle of offending. Mental health awareness training will also be provided to police and other frontline criminal justice staff as part of the service. The service is provided to all those who need it and places a particular emphasis on reaching women, BME groups, and children and young people, including those transitioning to adulthood and involved in gangs.

Since April 2014 when the first phase of the trial began, 3,479 people have benefited from the service in North and North East London. Many of these also benefitted from outreach support provided by a Community Support Worker, a role being trialled as part of the liaison and diversion model to give vulnerable people as much support as possible to fully engage with relevant support agencies. As part of the aim to ensure liaison and diversion is available at every stage of the criminal justice pathway, the trial site has introduced the service in two Crown Courts, where 117 people received support. 2,407 people received support from a practitioner when attending a police station within the area covered by phase one.

Liz Felton, CEO of Together, said: “By being proactive in identifying and tackling people’s mental health needs, we can support them at every point on their journey to a life away from crime. This is only possible with specialist support at the earliest possible point to address the complex mental health and social care issues that are at the heart of someone’s offending. In the 20 years we have been delivering liaison and diversion, we have seen thousands of people take positive steps to get their lives back on track.

“Joint working is crucial to liaison and diversion services and we are excited to be building on the firm foundations of our existing partnerships with the three trusts. We look forward to working with them to extend the London trial site that has already benefitted so many over the past year.”

Claire Murdoch, Chief Executive of Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We are so pleased to be part of this initiative. It’s a better way of treating people and it’s a more effective way of protecting the public. Offending is a real problem and this approach aims to reduce it by dealing with the impulses and causes. It makes sense.”

Dr Nick Broughton, Medical Director at West London Mental Health NHS Trust, said: “Those of us who work in forensic mental health services know that all too often people with mental health problems end up in the courts and criminal justice system when what they need is the right mental health and social care.

“This scheme will help us to intervene earlier and hopefully prevent mental health problems resulting in offending or re-offending. By having mental health professionals in courts as well as police stations, we will also be able to make sure that mental health needs are addressed during criminal justice procedures. We’re looking forward to working with the other trusts and Together in this crucial work.”

Maria Kane, Chief Executive of Barnet, Enfield and Haringey NHS Mental Health Trust said: “Effective early intervention strategies are crucial if we want to make a significant difference to the lives of people with mental health problems coming into contact with the criminal justice system, taking them away from offending behaviour and enabling them to manage their own mental health and wellbeing in the future.”

The new liaison and diversion trial sites delivering this new national model will be independently evaluated and, subject to the approval of a full business case to HM Treasury, the model will be extended to the rest of the English population by 2017.