Mental health units ‘are heading for a Mid Staffs scandal’, warns senior psychiatrist
Sue Bailey, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, says funding cuts are to blame
Britain’s senior psychiatrist has warned that the mental health sector is heading towards its own Mid Staffs scandal, as it emerged that NHS patients are being treated in a hospital where staff were recently accused of using injections and seclusion as threats.
Professor Sue Bailey, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said she was increasingly concerned that mental services were approaching a “tipping point” with funding being cut despite a record 50,000 uses of the Mental Health Act to detain patients in hospital for assessment or treatment in 2012-13.
Despite the government’s claims that mental health would be given parity with physical health, Bailey said money that it was due to be given had been redirected to deal with the repercussions of the Francis inquiry into the scandal of the unnecessary suffering, and possible unnecessary deaths, of hundreds of people at Stafford hospital.
Bailey warned that the mental health sector could only “cut its cloth” so far. She said: “I do feel very strongly that if we keep always being the last in the line there will come a tipping point and we will end up with our own [scandal and subsequent inquiry]. We are under increasing pressure. Carers will tell you that. Mental health practitioners who feel it is safe to talk about these things will tell you that – but whistleblowing is still not easy.”
Bailey spoke out as it emerged that a juvenile patient at a private mental health secure unit in Woking, Surrey, which has a chequered history of performance, had told Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspectors in December that seclusion and intramuscular injections were regularly used as threats by staff. During a visit to the hospital, owned by the private Alpha Group, inspectors also found that a young person who had banged his head in seclusion was left lying on the floor for 15 minutes being sick.
Inspectors could find no records of medical help being provided to a young person in seclusion who was noted to have symptoms of “rolling eyes and losing balance” for at least 30 minutes.
The hospital, which was instructed in January to show evidence of improvement within weeks, had already been told to urgently improve its performance following two previous visits. In a previous report, inspectors recorded that “one female adolescent patient had been restrained by nine members of staff, one of whom was a male” because she refused to remove her underwear.
Alpha Group, which has two further hospitals in Bury, Greater Manchester, and Sheffield, is owned by the controversial Liberal Democrat donor Sudhir Choudhrie, who was named by India’s Central Bureau of Investigation as one of 23 “unscrupulous persons” in 2012 and is accused of being an arms dealer, a claim which he denies.
Bailey said that where failings were emerging they were a symptom of a system under pressure. She said: “Just like the rest of medicine, things can go wrong. We know the things that make things go wrong. And we know one of the things that made Mid Staffs go wrong was finance driving the whole kit and caboodle. We’re worried.”
In December a freedom of information request revealed that mental health trust budgets for 2013-14 shrank by 2.3% in real terms from 2011-12. Ten out of 13 trusts that provided forecast budgets for 2014-15 were projecting further cuts.
On Friday the CQC announced that Alpha hospital in Woking was now compliant with the “necessary standards” but that the regulator would continue to monitor the service. NHS England confirmed that NHS patients would continue to be referred there. It said that there had been no block on NHS referrals since problems first emerged at the hospital eight months ago, despite the scathing findings over a series of CQC inspections.
Surrey has no other secure hospital in which juvenile mental health patients can be inpatients.
Victoria Bleazard, Associate Director of Campaigns at Rethink Mental Illness said she was concerned that the lack of alternative facilities in the area left vulnerable mentally ill children with no other option but the Alpha hospital.
She said: “The government says that people should be able to choose where they receive treatment for mental illness, in the same way that people with physical health problems can. But when there is such an acute shortage of hospital beds, the idea that they will be able to choose where they receive treatment is completely unrealistic. For many people, getting treatment at all is a struggle in itself.”
Alpha Hospitals said: “We very much value feedback from the CQC. Following its inspection of one of our wards in November and December 2013, we worked closely with NHS England and CQC to develop and implement an action plan. We have since been inspected by the CQC and received positive comments.”