Shocking picture shows a woman with mental health problems forced to sleep in the back of a police car as no beds could be found

Tristan Simpkins' heartbreaking photo of his wife Katie sleeping in the back of a police car when there were no beds in a mental health unit (Tristan Simpkins / SWNS)
Tristan Simpkins' heartbreaking photo of his wife Katie sleeping in the back of a police car when there were no beds in a mental health unit (Tristan Simpkins / SWNS)
Tristan Simpkins’ heartbreaking photo of his wife Katie sleeping in the back of a police car when there were no beds in a mental health unit (Tristan Simpkins / SWNS)

This is the shocking photograph of a young mental health patient who was forced to sleep in the back of a police car in a hospital car park due to a lack of beds.

Katie Simpkins, 23, has emotionally unstable personality disorder and suffered a bad episode of suicidal thoughts over the bank holiday weekend.

But despite being sectioned by police she was turned away from from the mental health hospital which has just ONE bed for people picked up from a public place.

Husband Tristan, 25, claims police were told to take her back to a cell until it became free but they refused.

Instead let her sleep on the back seats of their car in the hospital car park and kept a watchful eye on the support worker for nearly four HOURS until a bed became free.

It came after she had spent the day in police cells due to a lack beds for people served with a order under section 316 of the Mental Health Act for their own safety.

Fed-up Katie and Tristan bravely decided to release the photograph of her sleeping in the hospital car park in a bid to raise awareness about the lack on mental health provisions.

Tristan from Corsham, Wiltshire, said: “What does it take before politicians, NHS bosses and police bosses will realise that mental health needs the same amount of funding as physical health?

“If someone in crisis does have to go to custody do not treat them like a criminal.

“At the end of the day Katie had committed no crime yet was treated like she had.

“There should be a policy in place where if people do go in to custody they should be treated in a safe and least restrictive way.

“When I saw her lying in the back of the police car I felt frustrated – but I’ve become used to it.

“I feel hopeless.

“If she had a headache, I would give her a paracetamol, and it would go.

“But because it is mental health that takes lots of therapy, and building up self confidence to repair.

“It’s a long process and this time it was only started when the police said they would stay with her.”

Katie Simpkins and her husband Tristan in happier times (SWNS)
Katie Simpkins and her husband Tristan in happier times (SWNS)

Married Katie has suffered with personality disorder since 2013 due to emotional abuse earlier in her life, and husband Tristan said she has “good days and bad days”.

It can leave her feeling very low and unmotivated, and sometimes makes her feel overwhelmed by her emotions and suicidal, he said.

The pair got married five weeks ago, but after she started to feel very low on Thursday, she had suicidal thoughts and self-harmed on Friday.

Tristan, also an agency support worker, took her to a minor injury unit in Trowbridge at 3am on Saturday, where she had stitches but she “hit crisis”.

He said: “The hospital phoned the community mental health team and they said ‘she’s in a place of safety, what do you expect us to do’.”

Staff had no choice but to phone the police who initially tried to help Tristan take her home for a much-needed rest, but on the way to the car she started to walk off.

They issued ‘a 136’ – section 136 of the Mental Health Act means police can take someone to a place of safety when they are in a public place.

Tristan said two police officers and a nurse rang around all the mental health units in the area – which have just 16 ‘316 beds‘ – but none were free.

They had no choice but to take her to a custody suite in Melksham police station at 5am.

He said: “Katie got very claustrophobic in the cells and described the clothes she had to wear as a ligation risk as canvassy.

“She didn’t want to wear the shorts because she is very self-conscious of the scars on her leg but she was told she had to.

“I think there should be a second policy for people who have been sectioned in custody.

“It seems to be one rule for everyone and you get treated like a criminal.”

Green Lane Hospital in Devizes Wiltshire (SWNS)
Green Lane Hospital in Devizes Wiltshire (SWNS)

After a mental health assessment at 3pm on Saturday, they tried to release her to her husband, but again were forced to issue another 316.

This time they were told a bed was available at Green Lane Hospital, a psychiatric hospital in Devizes.

But when they got there at 5pm on Saturday they were told it wouldn’t be ready until 8.30pm.

Tristan said: “The hospital suggested she go back to custody and they will call when it is ready, but the police officer said ‘custody is not the right place for her’.

“He didn’t want to risk her missing the bed so he said they’d wait – and he’d wait with us.

“Katie had her medication, became drowsy and he let her sleep in the back of the police car with her blanket.

“It wasn’t their fault they couldn’t get a bed but these officers were all really lovely with her and I want to say a big thank you to them.”

She was admitted at 9pm, and has now been transferred to the acute ward where she is receiving the help she needs.

Sgt Mike Hughes, who looks after mental health issues for Wiltshire Police, said: “When a person is in crisis and has been detained under the Mental Health Act we always endeavour to avoid detaining them in custody, which is only ever used as a last resort. However, sometimes no health-based place of safety is available and our main priority has to be keeping the person safe from harm.

“We are working closely with our partner agencies within the local Crisis Care Concordat Group to improve health-based place of safety provision in Wiltshire and the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and Avon & Wiltshire NHS Trust have already committed funding to develop a new place of safety for the residents of Wiltshire which will see an increase in capacity and further improvements to the service delivered to patients.

“Together with our partners from the CCG and NHS Trust, Wiltshire Police has invested resources in improving the way we deal with people with mental health issues, including the implementation of our Street Triage team based in the police control centre, who are available to provide advice and support to police officers dealing with mental health incidents between the hours of 8.30am and midnight each day.

“However, there is always room for improvement, and we continue to work closely with our partner agencies to make sure all the people we have contact with receive the best possible support and care.

“If Mr Simpkins would like to discuss this further then I would urge him to contact us so we can try to learn from what happened in this instance and see what changes could be made for the future.”

It is understood between Bath and Bristol there are four section 136 beds, and 11 in Wiltshire.

A spokesman for Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust apologised.

He said: “We work closely with the police to ensure they know the availability of places of safety. In this instance we were unable to provide a bed straight away and there clearly could have been better communication.

“We apologise and will be mindful of this in the future.

“Once the matter came to our attention, we made contact with Mr Simpkins to give him and his wife our full support.”


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