NURSING leaders have called for wider provision of custody medics, citing the success of a Lothian pilot set up after the death of a 28-year-old woman in a Capital police station.
The pioneering custody health care team at St Leonard’s police station, in Edinburgh has been hailed by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) for making a significant difference to safety of those in the cells.
The nurse-led project was set up officially last year but work had been under way on a new approach following a fatal accident inquiry which catalogued a series of failures in the care of mum-of-two Amanda Smith, who suffered a fatal heart attack at St Leonard’s in 2008.
In the past, people in need would have to wait for an on-call doctor for treatment, but now there is one nurse on duty during the day and two people overnight to tend to the prisoners.
Jess Davidson, senior clinical forensic charge nurse who has led on the project, said: “Most of the people who we care for have mental health issues: they are rough sleepers, drug users and heavy drinkers at risk of harm, and failed asylum seekers. There’s a lot of suicidal behaviour and it’s our job to keep everyone who comes in safe.
“This is a new area of nursing and everyone who works in this team is compassionate, resilient and bright – that’s why we are making a difference.”
Nurses also provide training for police on how to handle situations with ill people effectively, whilst building crucial links between police and health services.
Ms Davidson, who addressed the RCN annual conference in Bournemouth yesterday, said the team were often on the front line of emerging trends, such as the rise in so-called legal highs.
She said: “NPS, or new psychoactive substances, are one of the challenges we have faced and we have worked on NHS Lothian’s clinical response to this.
“We often see things and changes in how people behave before it has filtered down to other front line services. These people don’t always start at A&E but come through the police first.”
The project has been praised by the RCN Scotland, who voted yesterday to lobby governments within the UK to enhance the role of nurses providing services to people in custody in police stations and courts.
Theresa Fyffe, RCN Scotland director, said: “A police cell is no place for someone suffering from mental health difficulties, and custody nurses are essential in ensuring people receive the care and support they need.
“It’s good news that the Lothian approach is being rolled out widely and it’s important that support is now given to such initiatives across Scotland.”
The service covers the south-east of Scotland, including nine custody suites in the Borders and Fife.
Chief Inspector Amanda McGrath, of the custody division at Police Scotland, said: “We are committed to ensuring a high standard of care for individuals in police custody and the service provided by the custody health care team is exemplary.
“The team are fully integrated into the custody environment, sharing their expertise with officers and providing invaluable advice and support first-hand.”