SIX-hundred mentally ill people in Hampshire have been locked up in police cells in the past year.

Chief Inspector Paul Bartolomeo, of Hampshire Constabulary, said police officers detained on average three people a day under the Mental Health Act, including some “on top of buildings and bridges.”

About 900 people a year were taken somewhere secure because of fears for their own safety or public safety.

Only a third were taken to hospital, while the rest were detained in police stations despite guidelines from the Royal College of Physicians stating custody should be a last resort.

That can also result in up to two police officers forced to sit outside their cells to ensure they don’t hurt or kill themselves.

Now Southern Health NHS Foundation, which is responsible for mental health services, is developing an improvement plan together with Hampshire County Council and Hampshire Constabulary.

In Hampshire, the number of NHS facilities where police can take people has been reduced to five with the closure of Woodhaven acute mental health unit in Calmore last July.

Chief Insp Bartolomeo said “challenges” included the availability of suitable alternatives to police cells and long waits for assessment by a doctor and social worker. People in custody should be assessed within two to three hours but in Hampshire the average wait is ten hours.