Section 136 of the Mental Health Act (MHA) 1983 authorises the police to take a mentally disordered person from ‘a place to which the public have access’ to a place of safety in order to be assessed by a doctor and an approved social worker. The person may be detained in the place of safety for up to 72 hours. Despite increasing controversy, the provision survived a heated parliamentary debate virtually unchanged from the 1959 Act. During the passage of the Mental Health Bill through Parliament, concern was expressed about the considerable variation in its use. Psychiatric examination of the provision has often been in comparison to compulsory admission provisions and the research populations have generally been confined to persons admitted to one hospital only. Although some researchers have recognised the variations in the way the provision operates, there has been no systematic examination of these variations. An important question is whether these variations result in differences in patient care and this question is largely unexplored. In the first part of a three part study of s136∗ the researchers set out to examine this question.
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