More than 500 people were detained under the Mental Health Act by West Mercia Police last year – including 27 children.

But the Home Office figures showed a significant decrease of 41 per cent on the previous year, when 853 people were detained.

The fall bucks the national trend with detentions rocketing 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.

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.

But, nationally, 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.

In West Mercia, the majority of the 504 detained in the 12 months to March, whose gender was recorded, were men – 53 per cent.

The figures also show that West Mercia Police used police vehicles to transport mental health detainees 95 times in 2018-19. On most of these occasions (56 per cent), officers did not call an ambulance before doing so. On a further 11 occasions, an ambulance was not available within 30 minutes.

West Mercia Chief Superintendent Damian Barratt said: “When people experience a mental health crisis it’s vital that they are given appropriate care; whilst we endeavour to provide help and support a custody cell is not the right place for them. That’s why we’ve been working closely with our partners to improve the services available in the counties we serve.

“Working under the Department of Health Mental Health Crisis Care Concordat we have ensured that action plans were put in place to see positive change. These plans have seen us train our officers to ensure better understanding of the issues, improve information sharing across agencies and working together to improve access to health-based places of safety.

“This has all been done with the aim of ensuring the most appropriate care is given to people in our communities when they need it.”

John Apter, chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said: “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.”