Warning on drugs for the mentally ill

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DOCTORS were yesterday urged not to prescribe drug cocktails to control mentally ill patients who may become violent, writes Glenda Cooper.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists said many doctors are administering high doses of drugs to calm down aggressive patients, which some argue may contribute to sudden deaths.

The college's report follows widespread concern about the increasing numbers of violent attacks on NHS staff and patients in psychiatric hospitals and casualty departments.

"Violence in the NHS has become much more common over the past ten years," said Dr Robert Kendell, chairman of the steering group.

Overcrowding of psychiatric wards by up to 120 per cent, the threefold increase in the number of people detained compulsorily in psychiatric hospitals since 1980 - from 8,000 a year to 24,000 in England - nursing shortages and widespread drug and alcohol abuse have been blamed for the increase in violence in the NHS over the last 30 years. The college yesterday published new guidelines to minimise the chance of violence in psychiatric hospitals. It recommended "well-planned" wards with space, comfort, privacy and safety which are staffed with adequate numbers of properly trained nurses and good communication between staff and patients.