Mental health care in ‘critical state’

Mental health services are in a critical state, with patients being put at risk by significant cuts, the British Medical Association’s annual meeting has been told.

In three years, mental health services in England have cut beds by 9%, delegates heard. One trust spent £345,000 putting patients up in bed and breakfast accommodation because no beds were available. Patients were also being shipped to all corners of the country for beds, far from family and friends.

Doctors were being forced to discharge patients as quickly as possible to free beds – putting patients at risk – the conference in Harrogate was told.

Dr Andrew Collier, co-chair of the BMA junior doctors committee, said: “The services we provide are under increased stress. At the very same time people need support most, mental health services are being cut. Recent freedom of information requests have shown that since 2011 at least 1,700 mental health beds have been closed. That represents a 9% reduction in the number of available beds. Time and again we’re told that when beds are cut it’s part of an overall strategy to invest in better, improved services but I’m beginning to think that’s not the case.

“The situation is now so bad that a quarter of junior doctors working in psychiatry have been told that unless the patient is subject to the Mental Health Act, a bed won’t be found. Almost a third of psychiatric trainees have sent a critically unwell patient home because a bed cannot be found in their trust. As a speciality, we’re having to cope with reduction in bed numbers and our patients are having to travel huge distances – that’s simply not right.”

He added that out of area treatment should be a last resort but in the past two years the number of patients being moved around the country simply to find a bed has doubled.

“The constant fire-fighting due to the abysmal shortages we face has got to end,” urged, Dr Collier. “If the government is serious about achieving parity of esteem for mental health services, these damaging cuts and closures must stop now.”