The Metropolitan Police currently has less than half the number of nurses needed to provide adequate medical cover to detainees, according to a new report from the London Assembly.
Published by the Assembly’s Police and Crime Committee, the report warns that more nurses have left the service than have been recruited in the current financial year and that the rate of departure has increased in recent years.
This has left the force with just 78 of 198 posts filled.
Responsibility for custody healthcare is due to be transferred to the NHS by 2015. However Assembly Members say the Met and Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, (MOPAC) which sets the force’s budget and strategic priorities, must take action to redress the shortfall in the meantime.
They want new strategy drawn up to increase the number of custody nurses and an independent review of their training and for a clear timetable to be published for the transfer of custody healthcare to the NHS.
MOPAC has also been asked to show how it makes use of information provided by Independent Custody Visitors, volunteers members of the community who visit police stations unannounced to check the welfare of those held in custody.
Committee Chair Joanne McCartney AM said: “When the Met take a person into custody they become responsible for their health and well-being, any failure in that duty can have catastrophic consequences for detainees and stain the Met’s reputation.
“That is why providing proper healthcare and assessment of people held in police cells is too important an issue to wait for the welcome changes to NHS commissioning of services planned for 2015.
“If a hospital had a 60 percent shortfall in nursing levels there would rightly be a public outcry, the Met must act now to address this understaffing and the Mayor’s Office must take a strategic lead to ensure new arrangements do not repeat the mistakes of the past.”