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Health screening of people in police custody--evaluation of current police screening procedures in London, UK.



Previous research has highlighted excess health morbidity in offender populations. A small number of studies have described health problems within police custody settings. The efficacy of police screening procedures has not been evaluated.


Prospective clinical interviews with custody detainees in London were conducted. Clinical findings were compared with those recorded in police health screening documentation.


High levels of health morbidity were observed. The sensitivity and specificity of the current screen with respect to its ability to trigger a call for a health-care professional (HCP), regardless of the reason, was 70 and 66%, respectively. Fifty-one percent of the detainees with asthma, 36% with diabetes mellitus and 40% with epilepsy were not picked up by the screen. Fewer than one-half of the detainees at risk of alcohol withdrawal syndrome had 'alcohol' documented on their screen, although 81% saw the HCP. The police screen missed heroin use in 28% and crack cocaine use in 68% of users. A HCP was called in 84 and 64% of the cases, respectively, for any reason. Two of the 12 detainees (17%) who described a head injury with serious-associated symptoms were detected; 9 had a HCP called for any reason. Whereas mental disturbance was detected in 79% of the detainees with serious mental illness, one-third of the detainees with a risk history of suicide and one-half of the detainees with suicidal ideation were not documented as such on the police screen.


Given the amounts of morbidity and the need for reliable triage, improvement in the health screening procedures used by the police is needed.


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    European journal of public health 23:3 2013 Jun pg 399-405

    Pub Type(s)

    Journal Article
    Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't



    PubMed ID