Mentally ill patients do, on the whole, receive adequate care and substantial support from the NHS. However, an independent inquiry released yesterday across England and Wales has gone some way to subvert this long-held view. The qualitative 400-strong investigation by mental health charity MIND cites some worrying responses towards our national health service in terms of psychiatric care. Can this poor service simply be blamed on uncontrollable circumstances, or do more internal issues need to be addressed in order to enable equal access and adequate support to all?
Admittedly, due to the intense pressure of overcrowding and under ongoing governmental cuts to the service, the NHS has recently faced increasing difficulties with space and staffing. In terms of mentally ill patients alone, 107,765 admitted were admitted to psychiatric units in 2010 and numbers are still rising. As a result, problems are widespread. For instance, one patient described her experience of coping with bipolar affective disorder to The Independent. Hannah Walker told the paper that patients “need a robust crisis team and access to local services that help those who need them” as current services were hard to reach remotely as it is too remote and hard to find in today’s health service. Findings show that some patients phone crisis teams but receive no answer. When answered, a number were told to simply run a bath, have a hot drink or go for a walk. Moreover, many feel that there are not enough beds for the vulnerable, and one psychiatrist even explains that one in ten suicides are caused from denied access to beds in hospitals. If beds were more widely available, this statistic could be significantly reduced, MIND argues.
Although these two problems can perhaps be put down to staff shortages and spending cuts, the next surely cannot. It has been reported that some mental health staff have attempted to physically restrain patients by pressing their head down on pillows. MIND expresses concern over the way in which some patients are treated, with evidence of verbal taunting to mentally ill individuals by staff. This kind of action is a damning reality check on the state of care for patients today. In response, Paul Farmer (Chief Executive of MIND) concludes that services “need urgent treatment” in order to bring psychiatric units of the NHS up to the good standards mentally ill patients should receive. This, they argue, can be addressed by receiving further funding and coaching better quality teams. MIND also argue that introducing more crisis houses and retreats will help support the mentally ill whenever and wherever they need it.
It is this flexibility and quality of service that is so in need of treatment. Hospitals need to address these issues of poor staffing and bad behaviour toward the mentally ill, but so do the Government. Whether these are easy measures to implement is a different matter, but it is clear that the Government is already taking some positive steps to address these shortcomings. It is, for example, now looking into the use of restraint in hospitals to try and prevent smothering occurring again and improve current standards and methods of restraint. Hopefully this will be the last independent report to find fault with such an integral service offered to the mentally ill. A bad review like this will do little to restore any kind of public confidence in the NHS let alone reassure those being treated in it.