The number of people with mental health illnesses being detained in police cells is a “scandal”, MPs have said. A Home Affairs Committee report called for a change in the law so that police cells were no longer deemed a “place of safety” under the Mental Health Act. About 6,000 adults and 200 children with mental health issues were detained in police cells last year because of a shortage of space in NHS hospitals. Home Secretary Theresa May said the government was reducing the numbers.

Currently, people detained under section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983 can be held in a hospital or police station for up to 72 hours. Police have been forced to “fill the gap” because of a lack of NHS facilities, the chairman of the cross-party committee, Labour’s Keith Vaz, said. He called for the detention of children with mental health issues in police cells to “cease immediately”.

Last year 236 children were detained in a police cell under the law. “These people are not criminals, they are ill and often are experiencing a great deal of trauma,” he said. He said in many cases detentions acted as the “starting point” for those who were mentally ill to enter the criminal justice system – often ending in prison.

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