'Crippling lack of resources' in mental health services

Published on Monday, 02 June 2014 11:29
Written by Daniel Mason

Some 70% of junior doctors surveyed by the Royal College of Psychiatrists claim to have had difficulty finding a bed for a mental health patient at least once in the last six months, it has been revealed.

The research, publishde today, found that patients were being sent home because of a lack of beds or being sectioned to secure a place - with the college blaming a "crippling lack of resources" as a result of budget cuts.

According to the poll of 3,504 trainee doctors working in psychiatry, 80% had sent a patient outside the local area for a bed, with 15% having done so more than monthly. Meanwhile 37% had sent a patient at least 100 miles outside of their area.

In addition, 30% said they had seen a patient admitted to a ward without a bed, and 28% had sent a critically unwell patient home because of the lack of capacity.

Nearly a quarter, 24%, said a bed manager had told them their patient would not get a bed unless they had been sectioned, and 37% reported that a colleague's decision to detain a patient under the Mental Health Act had been influenced by the fact that it might make the provision of a bed more likely.

Dr Alex Langford, a trainee psychiatrist, said: "These practices signify serious risk to patients due to a crippling lack of resources. The fact that psychiatrists are having to consider sectioning patients to secure something as basic as a bed is a huge warning sign of extreme under provision. These doctors are using the only option they have left to ensure very unwell people get the care they desperately need.

"The survey shows just how pervasively dangerous the disparity between resourcing in mental health and other medical specialties is."

Professor Sue Bailey, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists added: "This survey provides further evidence that mental health services are approaching a tipping point.

"Continued cuts to services can only result in further distress and discomfort for patients, many of whom are young, vulnerable, some of whom are forced to receive care far from home. This situation is simply not acceptable."

In a statement Norman Lamb, the care minister, said: "It is not acceptable to detain someone under the Mental Health Act purely because they need an inpatient bed.

"Decisions about detention must always be taken in the best interests of patients at risk of harming themselves or others. Inpatient beds must always be available for those who need them."

Lamb said the government was scrutinising local NHS plans to ensure they put mental health on a par with physical health.

But Labour's shadow health minister Luciana Berger claimed the results added to an "alarming picture of what is fast becoming a crisis in our mental health services".

"The government promised that people with mental health conditions would be given the same level of service as those with physical conditions yet, on their watch, mental health beds are being cut, people are waiting too long for vital services, staff are under pressure and some of the NHS's most vulnerable patients are being turned away from the help they need," she said.

She called on the government to take responsibility and "urgently get to grips with this unacceptable failure before more lives are put at risk".

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