A CHARITY has criticised police and NHS bosses after it emerged North Yorkshire was the only county in the country without a specialist custody unit for people with mental health problems.

David Smith, chief executive of the county’s Mind branch, said the situation was “absolutely appalling” which was resulting in the charity’s vulnerable and poorly clients “being stigmatised as criminals during an extremely traumatic time”.

Mr Smith said: “We expect the police and NHS services to sit down and sort this out because it is having a devastating impact on people.

“They need to have a grown-up discussion about whose budget will pay for this.”

North Yorkshire Police Assistant Chief Constable Iain Spittal said the force’s use of cells was inappropriate for people who required “a place of safety”. Under the Mental Health Act, police can detain somebody if they are deemed a danger to themselves or others.

In 2010, Dame Anne Owers, Chief Inspector of Prisons, and Denis O’Connor, Chief Inspector of Constabulary, expressed concerns over the lack of mental health support in the county’s police custody suites.

The following year, the concerns were highlighted with the death of North Yorkshire mother Toni Emma Speck, who collapsed in a York police cell after being detained under the Mental Health Act.

An Independent Police Complaints Commission investigation into her death is ongoing.

Mr Spittal said the force had been trying to work with NHS North Yorkshire and York primary care trust for several years.

He said: "They have a statutory obligation to provide a place of safety and thus far have not been able to.

"One of my big concerns is actually the immediate access mental health trained professionals who are able to provide immediate support.

"Sometimes we have to use officers to physically restrain these people to stop them hurting themselves, when in a medical setting they may be able to be calmed easier."

NHS North Yorkshire and York said it was working to establish a unit and was considering the best way to offer the service across England’s largest county, while also battling the largest NHS trust deficit in the country.

A trust spokesman said: "We understand the need for a facility of this kind and we have been working with other organisations in the area to try and establish one.

"The emerging clinical commissioning groups across North Yorkshire are currently considering how they might provide this facility when they take over the responsibility for buying local health services early next year."