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Thursday 28 September 2023 Dublin: 14°C
CHief Superintendent Gerard Roche.
# policing authority
Senior garda says garda stations are not places for mental health patients
Chief Superintendent Gerard Roche also said that new plans for removal of gardaí from mental health response requires proper resourcing.

A SENIOR GARDA has told the Policing Authority that the State depends on gardaí to manage mental health patients outside of office hours because HSE staff are not on duty.

Chief Superintendent Gerard Roche, stationed in Galway, also said that he does not believe that garda station cell areas should be used for the care of mental health patients detained under the Mental Health Act.

He made his comments during a public meeting of the Policing Authority in Portlaoise today. 

Gardaí have a power to detain a person under Section 12 of the Mental Health Act if they believe, because of a mental health illness, that they are a danger to themselves or others. The gardaí must then contact a doctor who carries out an assessment.

Roche said that gardaí are left with no other option than to take the often distressed mental health sufferer to a garda station where they meet a doctor. 

Following questions by authority member Shalom Binchy, he said that on average 340 people annually per division undergo this process. He said this is approximately 7,000 nationally on an annual basis. 

“But the problem and the de facto situation is that (between) five o’clock in the evening, seven o’clock in the morning and at the weekends, An Garda Síochána is the de facto people who look after people who have mental health issues, who present in a crisis,” he said. 

Roche, and other garda colleagues based in Limerick city in conjunction with the University of Limerick, have been working on a new scheme which would use more medical-based intervention methods to handle mental health calls for help. 

A new Limerick based pilot, Community Access Support Teams (CAST), is intended to create a specialist uniform garda unit, which will work with health professionals to provide a rapid and integrated round the clock response to people with mental health issues.

This came in the wake of a key recommendation in the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland around how gardaí deal with mental health crises.

Roche said a recent pilot of the CAST scheme in Limerick showed that 240 separate calls to gardaí could have been better channeled through this scheme if it was in full operation.

A place of safety

She asked what difficulties would therefore arise, given Roche’s comments about the provision of out of hours services.

She asked what difficulties would therefore arise, given Roche’s comments about the provision of out of hours services. 

Roche responded that the gardaí, in their study into CAST, had made submissions about that issue to the Mental Health Commission.

“It’s going to be reliant on whether there’s enough Authorised Officers, whether they’re on rotation during the day, certainly there’s a big difference when Authorised Officers are there and if they have enough of them.

But they have to be taken to a place of safety as well, and that’s the issue, when that authorised officer isn’t around, that place of safety ends up being in the Garda station.

“So we would much prefer and I would really like if there were lots of Authorised Officers, and it was somewhere else if they never came near a Garda station as happens in with the PSNI and in other jurisdictions, where they’re never going to a garda station when somebody was arrested for section 12,” he explained.  

Binchy said that she believed it added to the distress and stigma where a mental health patient was taken to a police station. 

Roche said that he believed that mental health patients should not be taken to garda stations.  

Commissioner Drew Harris interjected and said that it is international best practice to remove policing away from dealing with mental health crises.  

Roche explained that mental health patients being taken to garda stations were receiving a higher level of care or other detained people given their status. 

He said a GP is called immediately who then attends at the garda station to carry out the assessment and authorises the patient to be taken to psychiatric services. In Limerick that service is provided at Ward 5B in University Hospital Limerick. 

Roche added that gardaí receive training in how to handle the mental health patients and that several gardaí have gone through specialist human rights training. 

The Policing Authority published a report in recent days arising out of the findings of a symposium on how the garda force manages mental health crises. 

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