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"Threadbare" Mental Health Services Blamed for Rise in Patient Deaths

The number of mental health patients dying unexpectedly in NHS care has risen 21 per cent over the last three years, according to new figures.

Data obtained by the former mental health minister, Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb shows how the number of mental health patient deaths has soared over the last three years from 1,412 to 1,713.

The number of successful and attempted suicides has also jumped by 26 per cent from 595 in 2012-13 to 751 in 2014-15, while the overall total of ‘serious incidents’ including unexpected or potentially avoidable deaths, abuse, injuries and serious harm, has climbed by 34 per cent to 8,139 a year.

The alarming increase in the number of people losing their lives has prompted calls for an urgent investigation into the causes, amid accusations that “threadbare” mental health services are “struggling to cope” with rising demand for care.

Some argue that government funding cuts to Crisis Resolution and Home Treatment (CRHT) teams, which aim to support those suffering with mental health issues and persuade them to stay at home rather than be admitted to hospital, are to blame on a significant rise in the number of young people committing suicide.

Others say the spike in the number of ‘serious incidents’ can be attributed to better reporting by staff and trusts. The way in which the NHS collects statistics regarding such incidents has indeed changed since 2014-15, but figures for the first six months of 2015-16 continue to show a rising number of unexpected or preventable deaths.

What is clearly evident is the alarming 40 per cent jump in the number of people accessing mental health services over the last 10 years and the more than 100 per cent increase in the number of antidepressant prescriptions issued in the same period.

Millions of pounds have been cut from mental health funding and a clear shortfall in the number of psychiatrists and specialist mental health nurses in hospitals and mental health units has contributed to an established pattern of lengthy waiting times, bed shortages, a rise in the number of people sleeping rough and an overreliance on medication.

In 2014, there were 17,278 emergency admissions for young people suffering with psychiatric conditions – double the number of admissions in 2010-11. There were also more than 15,600 admissions of young women who had self-harmed, compared with just over 9,250 in 2004. Suicide is now the leading killer of young men in England and there are more than 6,000 suicides every year in the UK. Tellingly, a third of victims are already known to mental health services.

Our clinical negligence solicitors deal with a large number of suicides in psychiatric hospitals where breaches of duty by hospital staff in terms of inadequate risk management typically involve:

  • failure to maintain correct levels of observation on patients deemed at risk;
  • failure to implement observation regimes;
  • failure to remove items which could potentially be used by patients to self-harm or commit suicide;
  • failure to remove ligature points.

It is unsurprising that already struggling mental health services have been brought to their knees by cuts, rising demand, and the consequences of society gradually dismantling what was formerly such a taboo issue in this country.

At present, the estimated cost of mental illness to the UK economy in terms of working hours lost, unemployment benefits, support programmes for the homeless, and drained police and prison resources is as high as £100bn.

Despite this, local authorities in England spend less than one per cent of their public health allowance on measures to prevent failing mental health.

Although the Government continues to talk big on how mental health is now higher up the political agenda than ever before, it is time ministers focus on urgent measures such as the need to recruit more specialist mental health staff, the need for additional funding into existing services and the training of GPs to be more aware of patients with poor mental health. Without these measures the rise in the number of people taking their own lives is only going to continue.

Paul Sankey is a senior clinical negligence solicitor at Slater and Gordon in London.

For a free consultation about a clinical or medical negligence claim call us 24/7 on freephone 0800 916 9049 or contact us online and we will call you.


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