VULNERABLE mental health patients are being detained for longer than they should be by staff at an NHS organisation, a damning new report has found.

Care Quality Commission inspectors have found that staff at Lancashire Care Foundation Trust were detaining patients in ‘health-based places of safety’ past the expiry time of a section 136.

Section 136 of the Mental Health Act gives the police the power to remove a person from a public place, when they appear to be suffering from a mental disorder, to a place of safety.

The person will be deemed by the police to be in immediate need of care and control as their behaviour is of concern.

Most often the place of safety will be on a mental health unit or at an A&E - but as a last resort a police station can be used.

A person can be detained on a Section 136 for up to 24 hours, but this can be extended by up to 12 hours if the person cannot be assessed for clinical reasons.

But CQC watchdogs have found that staff were not always following this area of the Mental Health Act following an inspection in May and June.

The trust is the county’s main mental health organisation provides health and wellbeing services for a population of around 1.5million people, including in Blackburn with Darwen and East Lancashire.

Rating the trust as ‘requires improvement’ for a second-year running, inspectors said in a report: “Staff were detaining patients in the health-based places of safety past the expiry time of the section 136.

“Patients were subject to restrictive interventions without the appropriate legal safeguards in place.

“This practice had become routine.

“This had not improved since the last inspection.”

The report also found that the trust was not providing consistently safe care within the acute wards and psychiatric intensive care units, while there were not sufficient numbers of suitably trained staff.

The trust was given a ‘requires improvement’ rating for its safety, effectiveness and leadership, although its care and responsiveness was rated as ‘good’.

Inspectors also rated 11 of the trust’s 15 core services as good overall.

Watchdogs also said that staff were kind, caring and motivated to provide the best care and treatment they could for patients.

Caroline Donovan, CEO of Lancashire Care, apologised for the trust's failings.

She said: “We want to thank all our staff for everything they do – sometimes in exceptionally challenging circumstances - for our patients and their families. The CQC observed that they are kind, caring and motivated to provide the best care and treatment possible. We are delighted that two of our services, The Cove and dental have been rated as good with dental achieving outstanding for caring, and that 10 of our 14 core services are rated as good.

“The findings and resultant rating of ‘requires improvement’ are disappointing but not unanticipated as the reports echo the recent Northumberland Tyne and Wear review of the mental health acute care pathway. We realise that some of the issues identified in the previous inspection still remain and we apologise for that. The people who use our services deserve better and we will work tirelessly with our dedicated staff to make the required improvements as a matter of urgency. We are already making progress on the delivery of an improvement plan and have secured investment to help us with this.

She added: “All of our stakeholders, especially our patients and families, can be assured that our trust leadership has been significantly strengthened recently and we are all working with one overarching objective in mind, to improve our performance and provide a service we can be proud of.”