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Mental health services ‘under unprecedented strain’

Report says that bed cuts and staff shortages are taking their toll

Mark Gould

Monday, 24 November 2014

Mental health services across the UK are under unprecedented strain, with a steep fall in nurse numbers and available beds at a time of rising demand, according to a new report* published by the Royal College of Nursing.

Despite pledges to improve mental health care, and in particular move towards more community services, the RCN says that the last four years have seen a drop of more than 3,300 posts in mental health nursing across the UK, with more experienced nurses disproportionately lost and the expectation of more to come as older nurses retire.

Since 2010, around 1,500 available beds were lost from the system in England alone. This represents a reduction of 6 per cent at a time when demand rose by 30 per cent. 

Admissions to inpatient units have risen over the same period, with the RCN’s evidence suggesting that this is linked to the loss of early intervention and crisis resolution services. 

The RCN says the loss of these vital services means many people experiencing symptoms of psychosis and serious mental illness have to wait until they are ill enough to be detained under the Mental Health Act before they can access treatment as an inpatient. There has been a rise in detentions under the Mental Health Act of 13 per cent between 2009/10 and 2012/13.

Dr Peter Carter, the chief executive of the RCN, said: “The fact that mental health services are now facing staff cuts and bed shortages is a shocking tragedy which is having a real and lasting impact on those who desperately need the right care and support. 

“We are running the serious risk of turning back the clock and undoing all the good work that has gone before. There was a time when people who had mental health problems would be left to deal with them alone unless or until they were sick enough to be detained in an institution. 

“The establishment of early intervention services was a great leap forward, and has helped many people live well who may once have been written off. The sterling work of the nurses and doctors who helped turn this around is in danger of being undone through short-sighted responses to cost pressures”. 

A Department of Health spokesman said: "Mental health is a priority for this government which is why we announced last month an additional £120 million to improve care and introduced the first ever waiting time standards, which underpins our legislation on parity of esteem."

* Frontline First Turning back the clock? RCN report on mental health services in the UK. November 2014

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