Taser In Psychiatric Wards

The Policing and Crime Bill is currently making its way through Parliament and, as is usual, MP’s are suggesting additions and amendments as it winds its merry way.

Norman Lamb was a junior minister in the Department of Health under the Coalition Government and is the current Health Spokesman for the Liberal Democrats. It is he who has suggested the following amendment to the Policing and Crime Bill 


This was defeated in the House of Commons but has now been reintroduced by Baroness Walmsley as a suggested amendment from the House of Lords.

If at first you don’t succeed….

Just think about this for a moment.

Nobody WANTS to use a taser in a clinical environment and, in my experience, I have only ever seen them considered in extreme circumstances.

With certain exceptions as specified in legislation, the police can only use force of any kind for the purposes of prevention or detection of crime or in order to carry out their powers as specified in the Police And Criminal Evidence Act 1984. Even then that force must be justified and reasonable in the circumstances.

In cases where someone is being “difficult” or dangerous on a psychiatric ward and where the medical staff wish to sedate them then the police have no powers at all to apply force to assist them.

Police are, however, requested many times to deal with exactly this situation. It is something to which the police need to be very aware and very willing to say “no.”

In these circumstances, any use of police force irrespective of whether it is restraint or taser would be inappropriate. If there is no crime to prevent or detect then there should be no application of police force.

However, a blanket ban, such as the one being suggested, fails to recognise or accept that there are times when very sick people, with or without capacity, will commit or attempt to commit crime. They will do so inside or outside of psychiatric wards.

There are times when someone becomes so dangerous that staff within the ward simply cannot control them. They may improvise or fashion weapons. They may cause tens of thousands of pounds of damage and they may become so violent that staff have to barricade themselves into an office.

Don’t believe me? It happened – and I was asked to consider the response to it when the medical staff called police desperate for assistance.

I am not going to go into further detail of what transpired or how it panned out but suffice to say that I was grateful that I had all options available and was not hamstrung by a piece of legislation that just assumed I was in the habit of electrifying the sick for the sake of it.

If you think about it very simply it is not ideal for ill people to be subject to police force at all – of any kind.

But this view singularly fails to accept that there are times when sick people can commit crime and that there are times – many many times – when simply talking nicely to people or letting them blow themselves out of steam are not safe, appropriate or effective.

A correspondent to the Independent recently (and seriously) suggested that the police have completely lost touch and simply need to resort to a good old fashioned come along now, old chap approach because this used to apparently work miracles with an old licensee friend of his.

I venture that the author has never been faced by someone weilding a sharp table leg in the midst of a drug induced psychosis.

If the police are ever called to a psych ward you would hope that all other options had been considered. Too frequently this is not the case but there are occasions where the situation is well beyond the training and capacity of medical staff.

In those situations police need all options available.

In saying that taser should be banned are we saying that batons, CS, PAVA, handcuffs, shields, physical force, restraint, baton rounds and firearms are acceptable?

They have not been specifically banned in this proposal. Why are they more acceptable than taser?

If we are saying that police should not be using taser on a psych ward then why are we not mentioning other clinical premises or care homes?

If we are saying that police cannot use taser then what actually is the reason to call the police? Clinical staff are not allowed to use mechanical restraint or face down restraint – the police are.

The fact that police are called so frequently suggests that the bans on clinical staff actually restrict their ability to manage the most dangerous situations so they have to call the police to do what they cannot.

It’s apparently not ok for a clinician to use cuffs or prone restraint in a psych ward but it’s ok for the police to do so in the same location.

What we are actually saying is that clinicians cannot use certain tactics and equipment but that the police can – in the same location. And whilst we’re at it we are thinking of limiting the options available to the attending officers irrespective of the situation.

Sick person weilding knife with a hostage on a psych ward – no taser.

Sick person weilding knife with a hostage at home address – taser ok.

The only thing different here is location plus – in the first scenario the person has been diagnosed and in the second they haven’t. But the circumstances ARE identifical. Same risk, same threat, same weapon.

We have recently seen two incidents in London where mental illness appears to have been a significant factor but where the assailant has been armed with a large knife and killed or attempted to kill people in the street or tube. There was another in Brussels today.

In the first two UK scenarios the assailant was stopped with a taser. In Belgium she was shot.

Had these situations taken place in psych wards – and this could very easily happen – then, under this amendment, the taser option would no longer be an option.

Mental health a factor. Knives a factor. Serious injury happened or happening. Risk of death high. The only difference being that these situations occurred in one place rather than another.

Had they taken place in a psych ward there is no magic wand which makes it resolve itself all of a sudden.

The whole situation makes no sense at all.

Are we actually saying that some people cannot be as dangerous as others simply because of where they are?

Banning taser is simplistic and doesn’t actually deal with the real issues at stake here.

Why do some people become so incredibly violent in a psychiatric ward and if this happens how should they be dealt with and by whom?

Rather than restrict what can SOMETIMES be a valid tactical option why don’t we look more deeply at the problem first?
@mentalhealthcop has now written a blog on this subject which covers some of the other issues in more detail. Such is “what is a psychiatric ward” 

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3 responses to “Taser In Psychiatric Wards”

  1. Jayne Bell says :

    As a manager of MH services I can confirm we call the police for assistance once our options (usually persuasion, reassurance and medication) have failed. I feel that, in the very rare circumstance when MH staff are on the brink of being the victim of a violent crime at the hands of a patient, they should be afforded the same rights of protection as if they were a member of the public on a street.

    • Passive Patient says :

      Would hope that ward staff would actually extend this protection to other patients as well. Too often as a patient you are left unprotected while staff lock themselves in an office -out of harms way- while the situation deteriorates. This ISNT just about protecting ward staff. Police called need to use proportionate force when the situation has deteriorated to the point of weapons being used but far too often nursing staff call police when haven’t used de escalation techniques. Feels like non threatening patients – who are more often the victims of threat and violence on a ward then staff ever are – get forgotten in this. Much of the violence and anger on wards is generated from poor experiences where wards are understaffed or underskilled. Address this and leave calling in the police for the serious incident as the blog describes. Furthermore would also like to see police step in when patients call them from the ward. What are you meant to do as a patient who has been threatened or assaulted when you have no safe space away fro the aggressor?
      There are so many more layers to this than ward staff protection

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  1. Tasers on Psychiatric Wards – Mental Health Cop - August 24, 2016

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