Mental health services are failing to meet patients’ basic rights to safety and dignity, the Mental Health Act Commission’s biannual report said today.
The watchdog raised “serious concern” about the safety of some of the most vulnerable patients detained in hospital for psychiatric care, particularly women and young people in mixed-sex adult wards.
The report cited several disturbing cases including one case where a male patient was secluded “90% of the time with no quality of life” and no other service willing to take him.
In another case, vulnerable women were housed with “predatory” men but were unwilling to take forward allegations of physical and sexual abuse because they were afraid of what would happen.
In some wards, detained patients were found sleeping on mattresses on floors in doctors’ offices and in rooms due to high levels of occupancy, commissioners found in the six months leading up to November 2007.
Other cases included a detained young man with a learning disability who had sustained a double fracture of his arm as a result of being restrained, and a deaf man who had been in a special hospital for 60 years.
Commissioners also raised concerns over an “unsustainable” workload on one acute unit, staff shortages and poor environmental conditions including mice and cockroaches on wards.
The report looked at the experiences of more than 6,000 patients detained under the Mental Health Act in England and Wales between 2005 and 2007.
Professor Chris Heginbotham, chief executive of the Mental Health Act Commission, called the findings “shocking”.
He said: “Patients admitted to hospital under compulsory powers should be able to expect that they will be cared for in a safe and welcoming environment. Sadly this is too often not the case.
“Admission wards, particularly in London and other big cities, are too busy. Bed occupancy is high, with 37% of the wards running at over 100% occupancy at the time of the commission’s visit, and staffing levels are not always adequate. This makes it very hard to provide good care to patients.”
Lord Patel of Bradford, chair of the commission, called for safeguards for patients detained under the Mental Health Act to be strengthened and for improvements in the quality of hospital care.
Commenting on the report, Mind chief executive Paul Farmer said: “Hospitals should be therapeutic places of safety but unfortunately for some people their hospital experience only serves to hinder rather than help their recovery.”
He said it was “critical” that the work of the commission would be allowed to continue when it becomes part of super-inspectorate the Care Quality Commission.