From fewer than one in ten places for the mentally ill being privately provided in 1985, more than one in four hospital and residential home beds are now in the private sector.
The dramatic increase was revealed by a survey carried out for the Government's mental health task force and comes as worries grow over the cost of private provision.
Many of the private hospital beds and residential places are paid for by the NHS, social services and social security. But Martin Eede, chief executive of the National Schizophrenia Fellowship, said: 'Some private hospitals are charging pounds 70,000 to pounds 80,000 a year for a high level of care, against pounds 46,000 a year for similar care in an NHS hospital, and less than that in some voluntary homes.
'We have nothing against private care in principle. Although some of it is atrocious, some of it is excellent. We are worried, however, when it is expensive.
'Our concern is that some of these places are having to be bought at very high costs simply because there is nowhere else to put people, and the private hospitals and homes are soaking up money that should be spent on proper community care in the same way as the big old mental illness hospitals used to.'
The survey shows that while the number of mental illness beds in the old NHS long-stay mental hospitals has indeed been falling sharply, there are still almost as many mental illness beds available as a decade ago.
That results from a small increase in mental illness places in NHS general hospitals, a limited growth in the number of voluntary and local authority homes, but a dramatic rise in private places.
Private hospitals' beds for the mentally ill have risen six- fold since 1985 to 12,000, while private residential home places have risen almost as fast to around 10,000. Between them they account for about 22,000 of the 84,000 places.
The result is that there are now almost 2,500 homes and hospitals specialising in the care of the mentally ill, against only 1,000 in 1982.
John Bowis, health minister, said the discovery that 80,000 places are still available should 'reassure those who were convinced that the closure of old-style institutions was not being matched by modern replacements. I warmly welcome the growing number and diversity of places for mentally ill people in the community.'
Survey of English Mental Illness Hospitals; IACC, Health Services Management Centre, University of Birmingham.Reuse content