An investigation by the BBC and Community Care magazine has revealed that more than 1500 mental health beds have been closed in recent years. Dr Martin Baggaley, medical director of the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust spoke out:
“We are in a real crisis at the moment. I think currently the system is inefficient, unsafe. We’re certainly feeling it on the front line, it’s very pressured, and we spend a lot of our time struggling to find beds, sending people across the country which is really not what I want to do.”
Indeed, on the morning Dr Baggaley spoke to the BBC, he revealed that one of his severely distressed patients had to be transferred from Croydon to Hertfordshire as there were no available beds in London. Currently he has 50 patients in beds outside of his trust.
The figures uncovered by the investigation showed that 1711 mental health beds have closed since April 2011, including 277 between April and August 2013. Overall this represents a 9% reduction of available beds in 2011/12.
Within these bed closures, three quarters were in acute adult wards, psychiatric intensive care units and older people’s wards.
Dr Baggaley says there is an increasing demand for such services, which combined with resources coming out of the health system and a squeeze on social service budgets is leading to this decline in available beds.
The report also revealed that half of the trusts questioned had occupancy levels of more than 100% with all of them showing levels above the 85% recommendation from the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
This issue has been highlighted by a tragic case involving 39-year-old Mandy Peck. After telling psychiatric staff she felt suicidal, she was told they had no beds available. The following day Mandy jumped to her death from a multi-storey car park. Tragically, the subsequent investigation revealed that a bed had actually been available.
Care Minister Norman Lamb has expressed his concerns, saying it is essential that people get the treatment they need in their own community – which can only happen if beds are available to them.