NHS mental health care in ‘crisis’ due to lack of beds, leading psychiatrist warn

Ministers say the problems stem from an ‘institutional bias’ against mental health

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The Independent Online

NHS services for mental health patients are in “crisis” and unsafe, according to one of the UK’s most senior psychiatrists.

The number of beds available in specialist units has been reduced by 9 per cent since April 2011 – a loss of more than 1,500 – preventing vulnerable people from getting the care they need.

In an investigation by the BBC News and Community Care magazine, 46 of England’s 58 mental health trusts responded to Freedom of Information requests looking into ward occupancy levels and cuts to available beds.

It found that three-quarters of the 1,711 bed closures were in acute adult wards, older people's wards and psychiatric intensive care units.

Dr Martin Baggaley, the medical director for the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust, said: “We are in a real crisis at the moment. I think currently the system is inefficient, unsafe.”

“We're certainly feeling it on the front line, it's very pressured, and we spend a lot of our time struggling to find beds, sending people across the country which is really not what I want to do.”

The average occupancy level of beds in acute adult and psychiatric wards was 100 per cent, and all were above the 85 per cent limit recommended by the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

The care minister Norman Lamb told the BBC the current “unacceptable” situation came as a result of the NHS’s “institutional bias” against mental health issues.

The broadcaster quoted Dr Baggaley as saying there is currently not a single bed available in London, and that he had 50 patients from his trust placed elsewhere, including some as far away as Somerset.

Mr Lamb said: “Current levels of access to mental health treatment are unacceptable. There is an institutional bias in the NHS against mental health and I am determined to end this.

“More people are being treated in the right settings for them, including fewer people needing to go into hospitals. It is essential that people get the treatment they need early and in the community but beds must be available if patients need them.”