Medical and wellbeing

Sometimes an event resulting in the involvement of police may be due to challenges or difficulties a person may be having impacting on their lives, friends and family. Such matters may be medical, physical or psychological in nature due to circumstances or a particular time in a person's life.

These factors are taken into consideration when dealing with persons brought into police custody, especially when force may have been necessary to safely detain a person. A medical health professional is available in custody to assess where necessary.

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Police Medical Health Professional

A clinically qualified person working within practice of their professional body but also trained and specialised for work within the Police Service, consisting of medical doctors (referred to as Police Surgeons) and Custody nurses. They are available to provide assessment, care, medication and treatment as appropriate. This may also involve referral to other specialist such as recommending the person in custody is transferred to hospital.

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Medical care whilst in custody

On arrival and during the period in police custody, staff will arrange appropriate medical attention if the person:

  • Appears to be suffering from an injury
  • Believed to be suffering from a physical or mental illness
  • Requires clinical attention.
  • Needs medication.
  • Requests to see a medical professional.

This applies even if the person makes no request for medical attention and whether or not they have already received clinical attention elsewhere.

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Additional needs

If custody staff are uncertain of the needs of a person in police custody, they will ask about any additional needs or requirements the person may have. There is a legal responsibility on custody staff to provide appropriate additional support to people who may have some difficulty or challenges in understanding procedures, communicating clearly or completing documentation.

Advice may be available from family or friends but only if the person in custody consents to such communication. If in doubt the custody staff will contact the health care professional for advice or request their attendance.

Depending on the needs of the individual, consideration will be given to obtain the services of a suitably qualified interpreter or appropriate adult.

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Detainees with physical disabilities

Reasonable adjustments are made to meet the additional needs of a person with physical difficulties or disabilities.

Each custody unit has a wheelchair available for persons in the unit if required.  If there is any doubt in relation to a person's fitness to be detained, they will be assessed by a medical professional.

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People under 18 years of age or vulnerable adults in police custody

There is a legal requirement whereby the police need to contact a parent, guardian or carer for anyone in custody under 18 or an adult who is considered vulnerable. Additionally, there’s a need for them to be present at the station to assist with procedures and support the person.

This function is referred to as being an ‘appropriate adult’ who can include any of the following:

  • Parent
  • Family member
  • Guardian 
  • Carer
  • Social worker
  • Friend aged 18 or over
  • A representative from an approved volunteer service

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Appropriate adults

Some people in custody require additional support, such as a person under 18 or an adult who may be vulnerable due to conditions such as mental disorders or learning difficulties. Appropriate adults are called to the station as an important safeguard and support to assist the person - for example, to help them understand what is happening during the investigative stages such as interviews, or to countersign any formal documents such as bail, charges or consent forms.

The appropriate adult is not there to simply act as an observer. Their role is supportive - to help communication between the person, the police and others and to ensure the police act fairly respecting their rights.

The appropriate adult will assist and advise the person in custody, but they do not provide legal advice. If the person in custody refuses to have legal advice, the appropriate adult has the right to request a solicitor be called on their behalf.

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Mental health issues and getting arrested

Occasionally, some people suffering from mental health issues may come to the notice of the police due to difficulties or events in their lives. It could be associated with an offence they may be suspected of committing, or due to behaviour causing concern for their wellbeing and safety or risk to others.

Under section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983 the police may detain a person if they believe they are in immediate need of care and control where they are conveyed to a place of safety. This can be a hospital, police station, specialised nursing home or any other suitable place where the appropriate care, assessment or intervention can be conducted.

A police custody unit is not considered a suitable location for someone suffering from mental illness and they should be in a more appropriate environment such as a hospital. However, there are occasions where it is necessary for someone with mental health issues to be detained at a police station. For example, if criminal offences are being investigated or the level of violence and risk to others renders it necessary for the safety of the detainee or others pending a mental health assessment.

When a person is considered to be suffering from a mental disorder or otherwise mentally vulnerable, the custody officer will arrange an appropriate adult to be present and a medical health professional to conduct an assessment along with other specialist mental health professionals where necessary.

Where appropriate, on release from custody an assessment is made of a particular individual’s potential vulnerability, their social care or mental health needs along with any suitable referral to agencies or services.

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Force may be used by police in the prevention of crime or in effecting or assisting in the arrest of someone suspected of offences or someone wanted. Handcuffs are utilised by trained personnel, a record is made of their use and why and examples include preventing harm to persons, property or to prevent escape.

Any reported injuries from the use of handcuffs are recorded and can be assessed in custody by a medical health professional.

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Captor Spray (incapacitant)

‘Captor’ is a product name for an incapacitant spray used by the police. It is used by trained and authorised police officers in appropriate circumstances when a person is considered to be a risk to themselves or others.

The spray consists of Nonivamide at a concentration of 0.3% in a 50/50 solvent of ethanol and water with a Nitrogen propellant.

It causes discomfort to the eyes and a burning sensation to the skin with symptoms lasting about thirty five minutes before starting to improve. If swallowed one should not experience any internal discomfort although the mouth will feel as though very spicy food has been eaten.

If symptoms continue, washing/bathing the face and eyes in cool, clean running water should bring relief. If Captor is in the eyebrows, hair or beard it is possible it could re-activate when in contact with water e.g. taking a shower. The effect will not be as strong but it’s important to keep eyes tightly closed and to wash and rinse thoroughly.

The police have procedures with anyone subjected to use of Captor spray to help them recover whilst in custody. Additionally medical healthcare professionals are available to assess and treat as necessary. Any officer who uses Captor records the incident and the circumstances why its use was necessary.

Captor may cause damage to certain types of contact lens and a person should consult an optician if they subsequently have problems with lenses having being exposed to Captor. There should be no other reactions to your skin as a result of the product. If there are any additional concerns the person should consult their doctor.

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A device used by specially trained police officers in appropriate circumstances which passes short pulses of electricity into the body rendering muscles to contract. During or shortly after the use of the Taser, symptoms can include:

  • Unsteadiness and a spinning sensation, feeling dazed for several minutes.
  • Muscle twitches
  • Loss of memory of the event
  • Temporary tingling & possible localised pain or discomfort.
  • Weakness in the limbs
  • Small sunburn type marks where Taser made contact some swelling

These are normal effects caused by the use of Taser and should return to normal. If any of these effects are still present days later, the person needs to see a doctor.

When Taser is used, a report providing details of the incident is recorded along with a review by an officer of at least Inspector rank. Anyone subjected to Taser by the police will be seen by a doctor.

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Source: North Wales Police

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