Deaths linked to mental health beds crisis as cuts leave little slack in system

At least eight people have died in the past two years after problems accessing psychiatric beds for mental health patients in crisis, an investigation by Community Care and BBC News has found.

The deaths include seven suicides and one homicide linked to bed pressures since March 2012. We also identified a ninth case where a woman took her own life after being denied a bed at a crisis house, a residential facility used to offer a community-based alternative to hospital.

New figures we obtained from mental health trusts show that 468 beds have been closed over the past year, bringing the total closures to more than 2,100 since April 2011. And fresh data on bed demand shows that admission wards for acutely unwell adults have run at an average monthly occupancy level of 101% for the past two years. Several trusts have hit occupancy rates of over 120% some months. The recommended level is 85%.

When wards run over 100% occupancy it is usually because trusts have filled beds temporarily freed-up by patients sent on short-term home leave. The strategy risks no bed being available for the patient on leave if they relapse and need admission.

Research by Community Care also established that health secretary Jeremy Hunt was warned about the dangers of mental health beds not being available in a ‘prevention of future deaths’ report sent to him by a senior coroner in December 2013. The coroner issued the report following the suicide of a patient who had been assessed as needing ‘urgent admission’ but faced an eight day wait for a bed. A copy was also sent to Sir David Nicholson, NHS England chief executive at the time.

Read more at Community Care.