ALMOST 1,000 people were detained under the Mental Health Act by South Wales Police last year – including dozens of children.

Police officers say under-funding of mental health services across England and Wales means more of their time and resources are being spent on helping people in the grip of mental health crises.

Home Office figures show South Wales Police detained 913 people under the Mental Health Act in the 12 months to March, 36 of whom were aged under 18.

The total figure was an increase of 14 per cent on the previous year, when 799 people were detained.

The Act gives police the power to take people to a place of safety for up to 72 hours if they appear to be suffering from mental health problems and need immediate care, or if they are a risk to themselves or others.

Detentions rocketed by 12 per cent across England and Wales over the course of the year, with 33,238 cases recorded – 3,576 more than in 2017-18.

Vicki Nash, head of policy and campaigns at mental health charity Mind, said the figures backed up their recent findings that access to mental health services was declining.

She said: "This is stark evidence that something is wrong with our mental health system.

"The NHS and Government need to prioritise mental health and deliver on the promises made in recent years.

"Detentions under the Act will only start reducing once people have access to high quality, culturally relevant and timely mental health care at the point they need it.”

In South Wales, the majority of those whose gender was recorded were men – 61 per cent.

A report published last year by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire Services warned of an "intolerable burden" being placed on officers, who were being left to pick up the pieces of a broken mental health system.

John Apter, chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said the increase in detentions did not come as a surprise.

He said: "It cannot be right that officers are again scooping up where other agencies are unable to provide – through no fault of their own – services that are so obviously needed.

"This vulnerable section of our community need to be afforded the proper care and attention that welfare services should be providing. They are patients not prisoners."

Ms Nash said she was also concerned at the increase in people being taken to hospital in a police vehicle.

"This is completely inappropriate for someone in a mental health crisis, who will need support and compassion, not to be treated like a criminal," she said.

The figures also show that South Wales Police used police vehicles to transport mental health detainees 823 times in 2018 to 2019.

The most common recorded reason for doing so was because the person's behaviour was thought to pose a risk.

An ambulance was unable to attend within 30 minutes on 247 occasions.

On a further 162 occasions, an ambulance was not called before the police vehicle was used.

A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “We know the police are dealing with a high number of mental health incidents, so we are working with them and our health and social care partners to relieve the burden on officers and ensure people in a mental health crisis receive the support they need.

“We’re investing £2.3 billion a year by 2023 to 2024 to transform mental health care, and last week we set out plans to reform the Mental Health Act – ensuring people in a mental health crisis are treated with dignity and respect, and given greater control over their care.”

A spokeswoman for the Home Office said it would be recruiting an additional 20,000 officers over the next three years.

She said: "We are also working with the police to better understand the precise scope and nature of mental health demand and distinguish where the police may need to continue to engage and where other services need to play a bigger role."