MENTAL health services across the UK are under unprecedented strain, with a steep fall in nurse numbers and available beds at a time of rising demand, according to a new report published by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).
There are now 3,300 fewer posts in mental health nursing, and 1,500 fewer beds, than in 2010 – at the same time demand has increased by 30%, the RCN report finds.
Dr Peter Carter, Chief Executive & General Secretary of the RCN said: ‘The fact that mental health services are now facing staff cuts and bed shortages is a shocking tragedy which is having a real and lasting impact on those who desperately need the right care and support.
‘We are running the serious risk of turning back the clock and undoing all the good work that has gone before. There was a time when people who had mental health problems would be left to deal with them alone unless or until they were sick enough to be detained in an institution.
‘The establishment of early intervention services was a great leap forward, and has helped many people live well who may once have been written off. The sterling work of the nurses and doctors who helped turn this around is in danger of being undone through short sighted responses to cost pressures.’
The RCN said in a statement yesterday: ‘Since 2010, around 1500 available beds were lost from the system in England alone. This represents a reduction of six per cent at a time when demand rose by 30 per cent.
‘Admissions to inpatient units have risen over the same period, with the RCN’s evidence suggesting that this is linked to the loss of early intervention and crisis resolution services.
‘The loss of these vital services means many people experiencing symptoms of psychosis and serious mental illness have to wait until they are ill enough to be detained under the Mental Health Act before they can access treatment as an inpatient.
‘There has been a rise in detentions under the Mental Health Act of 13 per cent between 2009/10 and 2012/13.’
Calling for more funding, Dr Carter added: ‘Money is tight in the NHS but if we are serious about treating mental illness in the same way as physical illness, then people must be offered what they need before reaching crisis point.
‘If staffing levels and services are cut back further, then services will continue to crumble which would be a tragedy for us all to say nothing of all the thousands of private tragedies that could result.’