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More funding needed to improve availability of community mental health services

The number of beds in hospitals for mental health patients has been cut drastically, leading to many patients being treated miles from their homes, a report by the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPsych) has found

The number of beds in hospitals for mental health patients has been cut drastically, leading to many patients being treated miles from their homes, a report by the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPsych) has found

According to the report, the number of inappropriate out-of-area placements at any one time has been consistently between 700 and 800 patients in recent months, after dipping below 600 towards the end of 2018. There are currently 18,400 mental-health beds - down from more than 67,000 in the late 1980s.

‘Cuts in the number of mental health beds have gone too far and patients and their families are suffering as a result,’ said Professor Wendy Burn, RCPsych President. ‘Beds are being closed to move resource to the community so that people can be treated close to friends and family and without having to leave their homes. The RCPsych agrees with that principle. But the reality in many areas is that beds have been lost and investment in community services is only now starting’.

Mental Health treatment is receiving increasing focus from the NHS and from Public Health England, and this is shown in plans such as the 'Every Mind Matters' support platform and the new NHS taskforce to improve mental health in young people. The NHS Mental Health Implementation Plan was created this year and aims to integrate primary and community mental health care, through funding the development of new models of care built around primary care networks. However, progress on this plan is clearly not currently keeping up with the influx of mental health patients in hospitals and this is leading to high levels of bed occupancy and out-of-area placements (OAPs). The RCPsych report has shown that many areas of England struggle with high bed occupancy, such as Birmingham, Cornwall and London, and with inappropriate OAPs, including Bristol, Devon, Lancashire and Nottinghamshire.

Catherine Gamble, Royal College of Nursing professional lead for mental health nursing, commented on the need for integrated care for mental health patients, saying, ‘Mental health nurses working in the community have a vital role in caring for those with often complex needs. What we need to see is an approach that includes an investment that links the entire system so that services are not disjointed and patients receive the care and support they need and not simply bumped between providers’.

Catherine also identified a lack of funding into training for nurses as a key area for improvement. ‘We also need to greater investment in the long-term training and development of nurses working in the community to ensure we can have the right nurses with the right skills to provide for increasingly complex care needs’.

The RCPsych is calling for an increase in mental health beds in hospitals, as well as the creation of a national programme to support mental health providers and investment in high-quality community mental health services.