Mental health deaths in NHS up by more than a fifth over three years, new figures show

Former mental health minister Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb said some services were “struggling to cope” 

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Mental health care in the NHS has been labelled “threadbare” after the number of patients dying unexpectedly rose by more than a fifth over the last three years, according to new figures. 

The data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the Liberal Democrats also showed a 26 per cent spike in mental health patients attempting to and taking their own lives since 2012-2013 - hitting 751 last year. 

In total, the number of incidents officially classed as “serious” – meaning they warranted an investigation - soared by 34 per cent to 8,139 in 2014-15. Each trust sets its definition of a serious incident according to NHS England guidelines. 

Among in-patients and those cared for at home, 1,713 died unexpectedly during 2014-2015 – up by a fifth from 2012-2013. 

Such incidents have become so common at the North East London foundation trust that almost two people died each day last year. 

Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb, who served as the mental health minister under the coalition government, said the figures which were collated from 58 heath trusts showed that some services were “struggling to cope” due to underfunding. 

He told The Guardian: “NHS England and the Government should set up an investigation into the cause of this as these figures involve tragedies for families around the country and the human impact is intense.”

“On the face of it, they [the figures] show a dramatic rise in unexpected deaths and suicides - at a time when real terms funding provided by commissioning groups has gone down,” he told BBC News.

Paul Farmer, chief executive of the charity Mind and the chair of NHS England’s mental health taskforce told The Guardian: “The figures give us real cause for concern."

The FOI request was published after Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt launched a review into NHS trusts after a report from that the Southern Health trust had failed to investigate the deaths of hundreds of people since 2011. 

An NHS England spokesperson said: "Reporting of incidents is intentionally up right across the NHS, including mental health, as part of our national effort to encourage transparency and a culture of learning. That's the lesson from the airlines - openness is a precondition for safety and improvement. That's as true for mental health services as it is for maternity care or surgical operations."

Additional reporting by PA