Ministers criticised as watchdog warns of ‘deteriorating’ mental health services
Ministers have been criticised after a review by the Government’s health watchdog found that falling staff numbers had prompted a “deterioration” in mental health services in England.
The Care Quality Commission found that 10% of hospital services for people with learning disabilities or autism were rated "inadequate", compared to 1% in 2018.
Meanwhile 7% of child and adolescent mental health inpatient services got the same rating, up from 3% the previous year.
And the same applied to 8% of acute wards for adults of working age and psychiatric intensive care units, a leap from 2% in 2018.
The annual State of Care report also found that while the “overall quality picture for the mental health sector... remains stable, this masks a real deterioration in some specialist inpatient services”.
The group discovered that while inspectors “have seen much good and some outstanding care”, too many patients were “being looked after by staff who lack the skills, training, experience or support from clinical staff to care for people with complex needs”.
“In the majority of mental health inpatient services rated inadequate or requires improvement, a lack of appropriately skilled staff was identified as an issue in the inspection report,” the report said.
“This reflects a national shortage of nurses in these areas of practice, with 8% fewer learning disability nurses registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Council in 2019 than 2015.”
Ian Trenholm, Chief Executive of the Care Quality Commission (CQC) said: “Increased demand combined with challenges around workforce and access risk creating a perfect storm – meaning people who need support from mental health, learning disability or autism services may receive poor care, have to wait until they are at crisis point to get the help they need, be detained in unsuitable services far from home, or be unable to access care at all.
“We are strengthening our approach to how we look at these services, and how we use the information that people share with us, so that we can act more quickly to spot and act on poor care.
"But having the right staff to deliver good care is crucial to turning the tide – as are better integrated community services to prevent people ending up in the wrong place."
Shadow minister for mental health and social care, Barbara Keeley, said: “This report paints a picture of over-stretched mental health and social care services and deteriorating quality of care. Patients are paying the price for the Government’s inaction and empty promises.
“The scale of the failure to provide safe, high quality child and adolescent mental health services or to provide community placements near to home for people with learning disabilities and autistic people is wholly unacceptable."
The Liberal Democrats' health spokesperson, Vince Cable, said: “It is rare for a public body such as the Care Quality Commission to be so scathing of the effects of Government policy. Their honesty is to be congratulated.
"They highlight graphically the decline in standards for mental health and learning disability inpatient services. Staffing shortages, coupled with inadequate funding solutions has meant the strained care system is beginning to crack."
A spokesperson at the Department for Health and Social Care said: “We are supporting our most vulnerable by transforming mental health services with a record spend of £12.5 billion last year and are working to reduce the number of people with learning disabilities and autism in mental health hospitals by improving specialist services and community crisis care, reducing avoidable admissions and enabling shorter lengths of stay."