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These are shocking figures

25 Sep, 09 | by Steven Reid, Evidence-Based Mental Health

This was the response of a spokesman for the charity Rethink to the results of the national survey of mental health inpatient services published today by the Care Quality Commission (the regulator of health and social care for England). You can see both the national results and those for individual trusts here. Of course, his comments were not a reaction to the three quarters of patients who rated their care as good, very good or excellent. Or the 85% who felt they were made welcome on admission. No, the headline findings are that the majority of respondents felt unsafe at times during their stay on a psychiatric ward, information about their care was lacking, and that only a minority were offered any sort of talking treatment.

I tend to view these surveys with scepticism. The questions are often worded ambiguously and how representative can you be with a response rate of 28%? Yet, the results here surely come as no surprise. It was only last year that the president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Dinesh Bhugra, lambasted inpatient units, calling them unsafe, overcrowded and uninhabitable: ‘I would not use them, and neither would I let any of my relatives do so.’

So why are mental health wards so unsatisfactory? Inpatient psychiatry has been neglected as a consequence of the emphasis on community care, a development not limited to the UK (see a previous post ‘A Place of Greater Safety’). Resources were diverted from comparatively expensive inpatient units, with a reduction in bed numbers leaving room only for the most severely ill: in the inner cities detention under the Mental Health Act is almost a requirement for admission. This has led to overcrowded, high-turnover wards filled with patients at their most unwell – is it any surprise that people feel unsafe at times? And faced with this pressure cooker environment the most talented and motivated staff soon joint the flight to fashionable, well-resourced, specialist teams in the community.

The Care Services minister Phil Hope is, um, hopeful: “We will make sure that the experiences people have shared in this report feed into New Horizons, our new vision for mental health.” Of which more later…

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