Mental hospitals 'treat patients like prisoners'

 

Mental hospitals are effectively becoming prisons for people suffering from schizophrenia and other severe disorders, the head of an NHS watchdog has warned.

David Behan, chief executive of the Care Quality Commission (CQC), the NHS regulator, said that in “too many instances” patients were being “restricted inappropriately”, which was hindering their recovery.

More than 50,000 patients were detained in mental hospitals or made subject to compulsory treatment orders in the community in 2011-12. This was an increase of more than 5 per cent on the previous year.

Launching the CQC’s annual report on the working of the Mental Health Act last night, Mr Behan said: “People who need treatment in hospital for their mental health should have care and support to help them recover.  Some hospitals are doing a very good job in treating people with dignity and respect... CQC is concerned that some hospitals have allowed cultures to develop where control and containment are prioritised over treatment and care. Our report has found too many instances where people have been restricted inappropriately.”

Inspectors visited 1,500 NHS mental hospital wards during the year. In one in five they found voluntary patients were being detained in all but name – an “unacceptably high number”, the report’s authors say. “The human rights of patients are often affected by controlling practices that only seem to serve the hospital’s needs… It has proved all too easy for cultures to develop in which blanket rules deny people their basic rights.”

During one visit to patients detained under the Act, none felt involved in decisions about their treatment or knew what was planned for their care or discharge, inspectors found.

On other visits, voluntary patients were found locked in wards with no visible notices on how they could leave if they wanted to do so. One patient had to ask a member of staff to use their swipe card to unlock the toilet.

Dr Peter Carter, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “It is extremely worrying that mental health services are coming under increasing pressure with fewer specialists, higher bed occupancy and increased workloads. This echoes our own findings from our Frontline First campaign which show mental health trusts across the country are cutting staff. These cuts will undoubtedly have a detrimental effect on levels of care.”

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