Get In Touch

Mental health provision in crisis: documentary shines a light on system in need of radical change

BBC Panorama’s Britain’s Mental Health Crisis programme shown last week provided a worrying insight into the perilous state of mental health care and services across the country. The programme focused on the care provided by Barnet, Enfield and Haringey NHS Trust, but for those of us advising patients let down by the system, it is clear that the situation is much the same for trusts throughout the country.

With bed numbers limited and drastic funding cuts it seems almost impossible for NHS Trusts to provide the care and treatment the most vulnerable people in society need. There is no doubt that without change, this situation will only continue.

The programme showed staff struggling to meet patient’s needs due to high demand for services. Not only is the mental health system overloaded but severe funding cuts have drastically reduced bed numbers.

The documentary revealed that the cuts to the Mental Health services across the country have been higher than any other acute NHS services.

Perhaps most worryingly the programme demonstrated how beds were freed up for other patients needing an inpatient stay. Every morning the Senior Bed Manager holds a meeting with the other bed managers on the wards in the Trust. If there are no beds available in the Trust and there are patients needing a bed then each Ward Manager has to nominate their ‘least unwell patient for potential discharge’ even though that patient may not be ready.

Whilst the Trust have the option of paying for private sector beds, at a cost of £1000 per bed per day this is obviously something they are reluctant to do, unless absolutely necessary.

Whilst the filming was carried out during the ‘September surge’ when this particular Trust was exceptionally busy, it is clear that bed availability is a constant issue. One of the nurses filmed admitted that the situation was ‘dire’ and that the Bed Managers and Crisis Teams are constantly battling over how to manage the allocation of beds.

The documentary shines a light on a service that is at breaking point. Our mental health services should be patient focused, based on the needs of vulnerable individuals rather than the allocation of scarce hospital resources. It is clear that as cuts across welfare, social services, healthcare and other public services deepen, demand for mental health beds will only increase. Unless radical changes are implemented, the situation will to escalate and the most vulnerable people in our society will continue to be let down.