A sudden spike in the number of mental health patients dying unexpectedly in NHS care has prompted calls for a wide-ranging investigation into “threadbare” services that are “struggling to cope”.
As well as the rise in the number of deaths among Mental Health patients, the number of those killing themselves or trying to do so has also increased, by 26% from 595 in 2012-13 to 751 in 2014-15. (It covers both those being treated as inpatients for serious mental health problems and also those who are being cared for while still living at home.)
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The way the NHS collects such figures has changed since 2014-15. But figures for the first six months of 2015-16 show a continued upward trend, with 1,132 serious incidents recorded as involving an unexpected or potentially avoidable death.
Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of the charity Mind and also the Chair of NHS England’s Mental Health Taskforce, said that even if better reporting partly explained the rises, “the figures give us real cause for concern. We know, for example, that suicides among people in touch with crisis resolution and home treatment teams – which are there to support people in crisis to stay in their own homes rather than be admitted to hospital – have increased significantly. These teams have in recent years been starved of funding and in some cases have been disbanded altogether or else merged into community teams, losing their specialist function, at a time of rising demand. Every unexpected death should be investigated so that lessons can be learned to prevent future loss of life.
Professor Sir Simon Wessely, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, commented that the apparent dramatic increases were due primarily to staff and trusts reporting more such events when they happen.
By almost every metric, the number of people with mental health problems in the UK has surged in recent years, leaving NHS services simply unable to deal with the volumes. The numbers of people in contact with mental health services has jumped by more than 40% over the past decade, while the number of antidepressant prescriptions have surged by more than 100% in the same period.
The government has been accused of cutting millions of pounds from mental health funding - an attempt to concentrate efforts on talking therapies by increasing the numbers of psychotherapists has produced mixed results.
Many long-term patients describe a byzantine system of long waiting times, lack of psychiatrists, overreliance on pills as an easy solution and a sense of limbo for all but the most severe cases.
Matters have not been helped by the fact that limited staffing numbers have fallen even further in recent years. The number of specialist mental health nurses has fallen more than 10% over the past five years - this loss has occurred mainly in hospitals and mental health units treating some of the sickest patients, official NHS figures show. Figures from the NHS’s health and social care information centre, obtained through a parliamentary question, show that the number of qualified nurses working in psychiatry dropped by 10.8% from 41,320 in 2010 to 36,870 in 2015. While the number working in community psychiatry services has fallen only slightly from 15,986 to 15,826, those listed as working in “other psychiatry” – mainly hospital units – went down from 25,334 to 21,044.
NHS England declined to comment directly on these figures. A spokeswoman said: “Reporting of incidents is intentionally up right across the NHS, including mental health, as part of our national effort to encourage transparency and a culture of learning. That’s the lesson from the airlines - openness is a precondition for safety and improvement. That’s as true for mental health services as it is for maternity care or surgical operations.”
In the UK, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123
In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255
In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is on 13 11 14
source The Guardian January 2016