A survey conducted by the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP) found that a nationwide lack of hospital beds has left patients with serious mental illness without the treatment they require.
Of the 320 psychiatrists who took part in the survey, conducted last year, 85% said there was more pressure on capacity than there was the previous year; with a substantial majority of 92% estimating that there were less than 5% of beds that were available for use, which is a threefold reduction on the recommended 15% set by the RCP.
It was also clear from the survey that out of area placement has been necessitated because of this increased demand. With over a third of respondents reporting that they have been looking to find patients beds outside their immediate communities, and a quarter said they have had to delay treatment and admission.
Therefore, mental health experts are concerned that the use of out of area placements is only exacerbating distress and slowing recovery due to patients being separated from their family and wider support network. And that delaying treatment will lead to a rise in patients requiring emergency care because their distress is not being resolved fast enough.
Dr Adrian James, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: "The historic problem of shameful mental health bed shortages that Government pledged to end in 2021 is only getting worse. More and more people are in mental health crisis as a result of the pandemic, and instead of being able to treat them, psychiatrists are forced to send them miles from home or ask them to wait for months on end to get help.”
Will Government investment in mental health services be able to keep up with increased demand?
Demand for secondary mental health services has been rapidly increasing over the last decade, with recently published NHS data showing that this is especially true for children under the age of 15, which has seen a demographical 48% increase from 2017.
Consequentially, because of the lack of bed and the ever-rising increase in demand for services the RCP is calling for an extra £150m in Government funding to support people in local services. And a further investment in additional beds and staff, as well as the building of six new mental health hospitals by the middle of this decade.
In the November Spending Review, the Government has previously committed £500m to support mental health services in England during the pandemic. With the majority of funding earmarked for specialist services for young people, and support for NHS workers.
A spokesperson for Department of Health and Social Care said: “We know the last year has been an exceptionally challenging and has impacted on many people’s mental health and wellbeing, but these measures are necessary to save lives and protect the NHS.”
“We have given £10.2m of new funding to mental health charities and set out a comprehensive support plan for the difficult winter months, on top of our commitment to the largest funding increase in NHS history to expand and transform mental health services in the long-term, including an additional £500 million over the next year to help address waiting times for mental health services, give more people the mental health support they need, and invest in the NHS workforce.”
More succinctly an NHS spokesperson said: “The Covid pandemic is clearly leading to increased demand for mental health care, so as well as £50 million already deployed to improve the availability of inpatient beds, in April the NHS is getting another £500 million to fund needed extra mental health services."
However, it remains to be seen as to whether this additional funding will translate into an increased capacity for services that will be able to meet rising demand, for example, two recent reports depict a children's mental healthcare system that has been overburdened for years, and therefore unable to catch up and function correctly and then reach historic Government policy aims.
The Children’s Commissioner’s report criticised the substantial waiting times children are currently enduring to gain mental health support, with many children waiting months or years to get a CAHMS appointment. And another study discovered that referrals for specialist children’s mental health services were often being rejected due to eligibility criteria and waiting periods were on average, nearly double the Government’s four-week target at 56 days.