Mental health patients forced to sleep in seclusion rooms due to bed pressures

Inspection of St Ann’s Hospital in North London also raises concerns over ‘de facto’ detentions of voluntary patients

Mental health patients have been forced to sleep in hospital seclusion rooms due to a lack of bed spaces, a Care Quality Commission report has found.

The inspection of St Ann’s Hospital in north London found that patients were admitted to the seclusion rooms on at least 29 nights in May and June of this year. The rooms, which are unfurnished except for a mattress, are meant to be used to nurse patients in isolation for a short period if they are a risk to others.

In June, hospital staff told CQC that there were “problems with bed issues and use of seclusion rooms” across Barnet Enfield and Haringey Mental Health NHS Trust, which runs the service. The trust told Community Care the practice was an “exceptional measure” caused by “exceptionally high demand” for inpatient beds and said it had acted to address the concerns raised by CQC. 

The report also raised concerns over “de facto detentions” at the hospital. Inspectors found that some informal patients were “not free” to leave wards as they chose, despite them not being subject to compulsory care under the Mental Health Act.

“We found one patient who was admitted informally had been told that ‘a section would be activated’ if they tried to leave,” the report said.

Both concerns contributed to the service’s failure to meet the CQC’s standard for the “care and welfare of people who use services”. The hospital passed five other care standards it was assessed against, including those related to record-keeping, staffing and safeguarding.

In a statement, Barnet, Enfield and Haringey Mental Health NHS Trust said it had taken “immediate action to address the concerns raised in the CQC report”.

“Because of an exceptionally high demand for inpatient beds which is being experienced nationally, we have occasionally had to use alternatives for emergency out of hours admissions. This is an exceptional and temporary measure as the patient is moved as soon as we have the capacity on one of our wards,” the statement said.

“All of our patients who are not subject to detention under the Mental Health Act and assessed as having capacity are free to come and go as they choose although there is controlled access on all of our inpatient wards for the safety and security of our patients and staff.  Patients are always able to leave when they wish to. We continue to work with our service users to respond to their individual needs and to ensure they have access to high quality treatment.”

Barnet, Enfield and Haringey Mental Health NHS Trust must submit a report to CQC by 11th September detailing the action taken to address the concerns.

is Community Care’s community editor

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