WATCHDOGS have hit out at the standard of welfare checks for ‘high-risk’ people being held in Ayrshire’s police cells.

A review of custody records found “inconsistent practices” around the frequency of wellbeing checks and observations of detainees.

The issue has been highlighted following a joint inspection by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) and Health Improvement Scotland (HIS) of custody facilities at the police stations in Kilmarnock and Saltcoats.

From a sample of custody records examined, it was found that 88 per cent of detainees in need of increased observation were given the same level of cell check as those deemed to be of low risk.

Craig Naylor, His Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary in Scotland, has now called on Police Scotland to ensure that custody staff have a clear understanding of what response is required for each of the defined observation levels, and that these are applied consistently.

He said: “Our review of Police Scotland national custody system records highlighted issues regarding disparity between some of the risk assessments undertaken and the corresponding care plans put in place.

“During the booking-in process, a risk assessment is carried out for all new arrivals to police custody.

“Effective risk assessment is vital to ensure that detainees can be managed and cared for appropriately.”

Under existing procedures, detainees undergo risk assessments that see them placed on corresponding observation levels graded from the lowest, Level 1, to the highest, Level 4.

At Level 1, detainees are checked in their cell and must give a verbal response at least once every hour for the first six hours in custody.

Thereafter, hourly visits are still undertaken by custody staff, but the detainee need not be woken for a verbal response for up to three hours.

Individuals deemed to be at the highest risk are under ‘close proximity’ observation, by staff who are either in the custody cell with them or are watching from an open cell door.

Mr Naylor said: “It was notable that whilst 54 per cent of the sample we examined were recorded as high risk, a considerable majority of these were placed on standard 60-minute observations.

“While risk was mitigated by use of enhanced CCTV observations, the recording of risk and care plans was confusing and inconsistent.”

Inspectors from HMICS and HIS made an unannounced visit to the ‘police custody centres’ at Saltcoats and Kilmarnock in February. 

At both Saltcoats and Kilmarnock, inspectors found the custody centres to be well maintained and in a generally good physical condition, with prisoner property arrangements found to be in very good order.

All cells were clean, washing facilities were good, and there were adequate staffing levels which included a good balance of male and female custody staff.

The layout of both facilities, particularly in Saltcoats, allowed for the segregation of individuals away from other detainees, however this was not routinely employed other than when children or young people were being held.

However issues relating to the recording of medication provision and the storage of controlled drugs were among several areas of concern raised by the review team.

Security issues at the police stations housing the custody centres were also raised in the 55-page inspection report.

Responsibility for the provision of healthcare services at the custody centres lies with NHS Ayrshire and Arran.

The ‘HMICS Custody Inspection Report Ayrshire’ makes eight recommendations for Police Scotland and the NHS.

It also listed five further areas where it would like to see improvement, including that both custody centres should routinely consider the use of separate cell corridors for gender-based segregation to improve privacy.

Superintendent Mairi MacInnes, of Police Scotland’s Criminal Justice Services Division, said: “The safety of all of those in our custody is treated with the utmost seriousness and it is encouraging that these individuals felt respected by our staff and overall hygiene of our facilities was positively recognised during this inspection.

“We are grateful to HMICS for this report and significant work has been ongoing to enhance and standardise our administration processes, including the recording and management of risk assessments and care plans across our custody suites.

“In addition, we continue to review our existing estate to establish where improvements can be made in order to maximise the efficiency of these premises and ensure they are safe places for those who work within, or who are held in our custody.”

Martin Egan, Senior Manager for Justice at NHS Ayrshire and Arran, added: "East Ayrshire Health & Social Care Partnership welcomes the publication of the HMICS Custody Inspection Report and the learning identified, which will assist the improvement actions to deliver high quality healthcare to those in the Ayrshire police custody centres.

"The report identified that healthcare is well managed with clear management, monitoring and oversight. We are currently developing an action plan to address all of the recommendations made by HMICS with immediate actions implemented for some of the recommendations."