When it comes to NHS mental health services, the situation is growing more serious by the minute. Recent analysis shows that the number of beds in NHS mental health hospitals has fallen by a quarter since 2010. This drastic decrease in support availability comes during the same period that the number of detentions under the Mental Health Act increased by 50%.

Out-of-area Services

With nearly 6,000 fewer beds available for those with serious and urgent conditions such as eating disorders and schizophrenia, this has led to double the number of vulnerable patients being hospitalised miles away from their homes, families and support systems in order to receive essential treatment. Where patients are already experiencing fragile mental health, the impact of this overreliance on out-of-area beds can be disastrous, potentially leading to prolonged recovery, longer hospital stays and an increased risk of suicide especially during the post-discharge period.

Separated from the doctors and teams usually in charge of them, patients risk a huge disparity in care with a lack of cohesion and communication between the hospitals and their regular care team leading to potentially compromised outcomes. This might mean poorer quality of care and significant negative impact on the patient’s health and wellbeing in the short- and long-term. This in turn leads right back to more pressure on the NHS both financially and practically, due to the need for increased interventions and repairs needed where inappropriate treatment has been administered.

Urgent Demand, Poor Supply

In the last five years alone, there has been a 67% increase in the number of monthly referrals to NHS mental health services, from 241,040 in March 2016 to 404,552 in March 2021. The number of people seeking mental health support continues to rise significantly and the COVID situation has made things far worse. Local mental health beds should be readily available but the NHS simply do not have the resources to cater to those in need. Community mental health teams are also being stretched to their limit with many patients becoming more unwell due to the restrictions on care.

This shortage of beds has also hit children and young people seeking specialist mental health support. The Chair of the National Approved Mental Health Professional Leads Network reports regular instances of young people waiting in “police cells, adult wards or at home for days after a decision that they needed immediate admission to hospital.”

A Dangerous Situation

The situation is dangerous and it’s only getting worse. Despite constant conversation around millions being invested in mental health services and grand plans for NHS funding, it’s clear that NHS mental healthcare has reached a crisis point and there are simply not enough beds available. Local community services are also struggling to support people before they reach the stage that in-patient admission is essential, meaning mental health issues are growing more serious and more complex to treat.

Healthcare leaders have said that the NHS is just as stretched now as it was at the height of the pandemic in January. Things are also predicted to get worse before they get better as pressure comes from all sides – repeated pay cuts, poorly organised mental health staffing and continued reduction in mental health beds with the system becoming ever more reliant on out-of-area solutions.

Transforming Mental Health Care

The backlog of care across the board spawned by COVID as well as record demand for urgent support is pushing the public healthcare system to breaking point. Urgent funding is needed to expand crisis mental health services ahead of what is expected to be a very intense winter for the NHS. There needs to be increased investment in community services to support people before they reach crisis point and provisions need to be made for the ever-increasing demand for mental healthcare in the light of the pandemic.

The Department of Health and Social Care have said that they plan to eliminate out of areas placements “as soon as reasonably possible”. They have also published their Mental Health Recovery Action Plan and announced commitments to expand and transform mental health services with an additional £2.3 billion a year by 2023-24.

In the interim, waiting time targets for urgent mental health care patients still remain untenable. Private healthcare seems to be the most sensible route to take in order to avoid issues escalating and access emergency help in a timely manner. Private healthcare policies have evolved with the pandemic and there are many options available for those with all budgets and requirements. Contact our specialist team today to find out more.

Disclaimer: The information contained within this communication does not constitute financial advice and is provided for information purposes only. No warranty, whether express or implied is given in relation to such information.