An independent Commission has been launched today (February 4) to review inpatient psychiatric care for adults in England, Wales and Northern Ireland*, in response to growing concerns over the state of mental health services.

The Commission - which is chaired by Lord Nigel Crisp, former Chief Executive of the NHS in England and Permanent Secretary of the Department of Health - was set up by the Royal College of Psychiatrists to address worrying trends in the provision of inpatient psychiatric care. 

For one, the number of patients in England travelling out of their local area for emergency mental health treatment has more than doubled in two years from 1,301 in 2011/12 to 3,024 in 2013/14, with one person being sent as far as 300 miles away.  

Also, an analysis last year of English coroners’ reports found that seven suicides and one homicide were linked to a psychiatric bed not being available between 2012-2014, while a survey of UK psychiatric trainees found that 24% had reported being told by a bed manager that a patient would only get a bed if they were sectioned under mental health legislation.

‘Profoundly worrying’

Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of the mental health charity SANE, recently said “it is profoundly worrying that there are times when there are few, if any, psychiatric beds available anywhere in England”, and she noted that, on occasion, “people have been detained in police cells as the ‘only safe place available’.”

“If we do not provide safe places for people in crisis and long-term need, more families will be put under intolerable strain and patients will become even more neglected and at risk of taking their own lives,” she warned.

The Commission, which has now launched a call for evidence, will review the current provision of acute inpatient services, investigate the causes of pressures on beds, and examine the relationships between inpatient services and other aspects of the health and social care system. Findings will be reported early next year. 

*Scotland is excluded as it is undertaking its own review of psychiatric beds.