The number of people who committed suicide within 48 hours of leaving Sussex Police custody has increased.

A total of four people took their own lives last year compared with two the year before, the new figures show. The police watchdog is calling for improvements to the way people with mental health problems are dealt with by police amid a rise in such deaths nationally – from 65 to 68.

A Sussex Police spokesman said the force assessed detainees before releasing them and pointed to a successful pilot scheme in Eastbourne to reduce the numbers of mental health detainees.

He added: “We welcome the scrutiny of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) and always carefully consider their views and recommendations for further progress in this sensitive area of policing.”

The IPCC this week released its annual report on deaths following police contact.

Dame Anne Owers, IPCC chairwoman, said police and mental health services need to work together more.

She said: “It is clearly important that the police are trained and supported to recognise and deal appropriately with those who are mentally ill. But they cannot do so alone.

We welcome the steps being taken to pilot joint working across policing and mental healthcare, and will continue to ensure that the findings of our investigations into these tragic deaths inform better practice and improved service provision.”

Under the scheme in Eastbourne, an unmarked police car crewed by officers and mental health nurses are sent to incidents where someone has mental-health issues. The aim is to identify people’s needs early on and divert them to other forms of support and treatment. Sussex Police said it diverted 17 detentions under the Mental Health Act in the first nine weeks of the scheme.

In comparison with Sussex’s four deaths, Surrey police had one apparent suicide following police custody, Kent had three and Hampshire had one.