Violent patients turned away by full-up hospitals

Six mental health patients, five of whom are considered dangerous, were turned away from hospitals and clinics in London this week because of a lack of beds, it was revealed yesterday.

The patients had sought help at a number of casualty and support facilities in west London and doctors felt that five were a serious threat to the public because of aggressive behaviour and a history of violence.

Although doctors felt that the patients should be admitted into care, they were turned away because no beds were available anywhere in the capital. One of the patients was detained but he was later sent home.

After being refused admission, three of the patients physically threatened hospital staff and other patients and used abusive language, though nobody was hurt. One of the patients later threatened a policeman after leaving the emergency psychiatric unit at Charing Cross.

Two of the patients have a history of repeated criminal offences, including sexual assault and rape.

One had committed more than 50 offences and had been convicted more than 10 times for crimes including rape.

The other had been imprisoned three times and has a history of sexual assault.

Steven Hirsch, Professor of Psychiatry at Charing Cross Hospital, said that he was concerned that the patients may "take someone's eye out or rape somebody".

"After ringing 32 hospitals and 10 secure units, you start wondering whether there is any point in sending out social workers and assessing patients through and through," Professor Hirsch said.

One of the patients is homeless and was refused a place at a number of hostels because he was considered too dangerous. "He will be walking down the street with a social worker and stop women and say inappropriate things," the professor said. "There are plans to place him in a speciality hostel but there is a four- to six-weeks waiting list."

A spokesman for the National Health Service in London said: "We are aware of the fact there is a problem in London. Mental health trusts and health authorities, who buy mental health services, are working together in an attempt to solve that."

An extra 226 mental health beds will be available by 1998 bringing the total number of beds to 2,400, and pounds 10m extra funding has gone into mental health in London.

Mental health community services in the capital received more than pounds 3.5m last April.

But Liz Sayce, policy director of Mind, the mental health charity, said that there was a lack of support services in the community.

"The apparent problem is shortage of beds," Ms Sayce said. "But there are people who could be discharged if they had somewhere to go.

"That would free up hospital beds for the minority of people who actually need them."

One of two dangerous patients who went on the run from the same secure psychiatric hospital was recaptured last night. Gregory Mellers, 29, a convicted sex attacker, escaped from the grounds of Arnold Lodge in Leicester on Wednesday night, sparking a massive police search. He was recaptured after he was spotted in the city.

Jason Fielding, 25, who has a conviction for wounding, was still at large after he failed to return to the unit on Sunday night from a period of parole. The police hunt for him continues. Both men were undergoing treatment at the 55-bed medium secure unit.

The Secretary of State for Health, Stephen Dorrell, instructed Leicester Mental Health Trust and Leicester Health Authority to examine the security and treatment of Mellers, who was being treated for a personality disorder.

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