The number of Mental Health Act detentions has hit a new record level for the second year running, official figures have revealed.
Data from the health and social care information centre shows that there were 50,408 detentions under the Act in 2012/13, an increase of 4 per cent on 2011/12 levels and the highest number since monitoring of the Mental Health Act 2007 was introduced six years ago.
Detentions to private sector hospitals hit 3,445 in 2012/13, an increase of 17 per cent from the previous year’s 3,045 detentions. A ‘snapshot count’ in the report estimated that more than one in four people detained under the Act were under the care of private providers.
Community Treatment Orders were used 4,647 times in 2012/13, an increase of 10 per cent on the previous year. CTOs place people on compulsory supervised community treatment with strict conditions. Detentions to private sector hospitals increased by 17 per cent in 2012/13.
Police officers used their powers to detain people to a place of safety under section 135 and 136 of the Mental Health Act 22,057 times in 2012/13, down 6 per cent from 2011/12.
Two-thirds of people detained under section 136 were taken to NHS places of safety, such as a hospital, while a third were detained to police custody. Official guidance states that police stations should be used as places of safety in “exceptional circumstances only”.
The findings come weeks after an investigation by Community Care and BBC News highlighted serious problems with acute mental health services and found at least 1,700 beds have been cut since April 2011. With demand for inpatient care outstripping bed supply, growing numbers of patients being placed in private hospitals or admitted to hospital without a bed.
Ruth Allen, chair of The College of Social Work’s mental health faculty, said the report echoed previous feedback from frontline professionals and offered “no assurance” that community support services are becoming more preventative and effective.
“From a social work point of view, we need to ask – are our models of provision working to ensure people get the integrated social work, health care and self-management support they need to reduce crises and admissions?,” said Allen.
“Particularly worrying statistics are the third of people picked up on section 136 and held in police custody which is an unsuitable and risky place for most people in mental health crises. The rise in the use of independent hospitals, including for first admissions, may also be a worrying trend. We know independent beds are often far from a person’s home area.”
Terry McClatchey, a member of the British Association of Social Workers’ mental health group, said that the “general austerity conditions” were likely to be one factor driving the increase in detentions.
Care and Support Minister Norman Lamb said: “People who are vulnerable must be treated with dignity and respect in the right environment. We are working with the Home Office and NHS to ensure that people in mental health crisis receive the care they need as soon as possible and we are drawing up clear guidelines on the provision of mental health crisis care in all local areas.
“The decision to detain someone under the Mental Health Act is a clinically-led one which is made by doctors and approved mental health professionals at a local level,” Lamb added.
Andy McNicoll is Community Care’s community editor