Patients sectioned due to shortage of mental health beds

Topics covered: Ridouts professional advice

According to a survey by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, some patients are having to be sectioned under the Mental Health Act to ensure they receive necessary care due to the pressure on mental health beds.

Denying a person of their liberty should only be done when a person is a risk to themselves or others. The college said its findings suggest that mental health services were approaching a “tipping point” and that the situation was “simply unacceptable”. The survey also suggests that critically unwell patients are being sent home because no bed can be found for them.

Recent investigations have highlighted that more than 1,700 mental health beds have been cut and that patients are travelling huge distances to access care.

Key findings from the survey include:

  • Some 18% of doctors said their decision to detain a patient under the Mental Health Act (section someone) had been influenced by the fact that doing so might make the provision of a bed more likely; 37% said a colleague’s decision had been similarly influenced
  • One-in-four said a bed manager had told them that unless their patient had been sectioned they would not get a bed
  • Almost 30% have sent a critically-ill patient home because no bed could be found
  • A third had seen a patient admitted to a ward without a bed
  • And 22% had been forced to send a child more than 200 miles from their families for treatment

Dr Howard Ryland, a member of the college said that these findings are “very alarming” and “people are beginning to recognise that there is a real crisis in mental health. This survey shows a picture of the very severe pressure that frontline staff are under in terms of securing the care that people need. The NHS doesn’t have the resources to cope with the ever increasing demand. The system doesn’t have the services to provide everyone with the care they need.”

In a statement, health care minister Norman Lamb said: “It is not acceptable to detain someone under the Mental Health Act purely because they need an inpatient bed. Decisions about detention must always be taken in the best interests of patients at risk of harming themselves or others. Inpatient beds must always be available for those who need them. We are scrutinising local NHS plans to make sure they put mental health on a par with physical health. Decisions about detention must always be taken in the best interests of patients at risk of harming themselves or others”.

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