normanlambEmergency care for children and young people experiencing a mental health crisis could be set to improve after police, mental health trusts and paramedics signed a new agreement to work together as part of a new Department of Health-led partnership.

The agreement, the Crisis Care Concordat, aims to drive up standards of care for people experiencing crisis such as suicidal thoughts or significant anxiety. It also looks to cut the numbers of people detained inappropriately in police cells and drive out the variation in standards across the country.

The concordat, which has already been signed by 22 organisations including NHS England, the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Royal College of Psychiatrists, sets out the standards of care people should expect if they suffer a mental health crisis and details how the emergency services should respond.

RCPCH president Dr Hilary Cass, said: "Partnership working is vital if we are to provide the best possible mental healthcare, so it's encouraging to see so many different organisations making a real commitment to improving services.

"For many people who need mental health services, their journey through the healthcare system is smooth, however, for others, this is not the case and it is here where partnership working is crucial in order to manage a patient's condition quickly and correctly. This Concordat acknowledges this and it is now down to us as signatories to start making steps to address areas in the system that simply aren't good enough.

"With more than half of all adults with mental health problems being diagnosed in childhood and less than half being treated appropriately at the time, it's our duty to educate anyone who comes into contact with children - whether that's teachers, police officers or sports coaches - so they feel confident intervening early and helping that child receive the most appropriate care, at the earliest opportunity."

It challenges local areas to ensure that:
• Health-based places of safety and beds are available 24/7 in case someone experiences a mental health crisis
• Police custody should not be used because mental health services are not available and police vehicles should also not be used to transfer patients. The aim is for the number of occasions police cells are used as a place of safety for people in mental health crisis halved compared 2011/12
• Timescales are put in place so police responding to mental health crisis know how long they have to wait for a response from health and social care workers. This will ensure patients get suitable care as soon as possible
•People in crisis should expect that services will share essential ‘need to know’ information about them so they can receive the best care possible. This may include any history of physical violence, self-harm or drink or drug history
• Figures suggest some black and minority ethnic groups are detained more frequently under the Mental Health Act. Where this is the case, it must be addressed by local services working with local communities so that the standards set out in the Concordat are met
• A 24-hour helpline should be available for people with mental health problems and the crisis resolution team should be accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

To support take-up, the Department of Health will work in partnership with the Home Office and mental health charity Mind to promote and support local responses. The Department of Health expect each locality to have agreed a Mental Health Crisis Declaration by December.

Norman Lamb, Care and Support Minister (pictured), said: “When someone has a mental health crisis, it is distressing and frightening for them as well as the people around them. Urgent and compassionate care in a safe place is essential – a police cell should never need to be used because mental health services are not available. For me, crisis care is the most stark example of the lack of equality between mental and physical health.

“The NHS and police already work well together in some areas, but it is totally unacceptable that crisis mental health care is so variable across the country. It is imperative that all areas seek to implement the principles of the Concordat as quickly as possible to ensure consistent care, no matter where you live.

“Better care for people in mental health crises will not only help those living through their darkest hours to recover – it can also save lives.”

For more on the mental health sector's response to the concordat visit