SPECIALLY trained mental health nurses are to be based in Wiltshire Police custody units as part of a pilot project .

The scheme was announced as the force welcomed a new national agreement that aims to cut the number of times police have to use cells for the mentally ill because of a lack of local health provision.

The concordat signed by the Government, NHS, police forces and social care providers is intended to improve the treatment of people undergoing a mental health crisis.

Officers have had to use custody when detaining some people for their own safety, often out of normal work hours, because specialist units are not open or beds are not available.

Wiltshire Police and Crime Commissioner Angus Macpherson said: “ The way that people with mental health issues are cared for has been a cause for concern for me and many of my fellow commissioners.

“People who are facing a mental health crisis need to be cared for by trained health professionals and in safe and suitable accommodation. Too often they have ended up in police cells.

"The use of cells has been stressful for the individuals concerned and has also taken up a lot of police time.”

The mental health triage project will see nurses on hand in Wiltshire custody units to help deal with some detainees.

Supt Marion Deegan said it would “enable earlier identification of those in need of mental health assessment or referral and reduce the risk of reoffending, which would only go to benefit the local community and free up police resources."

The agreement, signed by more than 20 organisations and backed by the Royal College of Psychiatrists , followed a critical report that showed more than 9,000 people as young as 14 with mental health issues had been detained in police cells in 2011-12.

It states that police officers should not have to consider using custody as an alternative if there is a lack of local mental health provision and says that police cars should not be used to transfer patients.