A recent study inquiry conducted by The Guardian in the UK has revealed that a minimum of 271 mental health patients died between 2012 and 2017 after shortcomings in NHS care.

Global parties have taken a stand of being late to address mental health as a vital aspect of universal healthcare and should be regarded equal to physical health. With millions fighting this debilitating health issue, these shocking results ring alarm bells internationally and must be a learning point.

Insufficient staff training, lack of beds – NHS errors contributed to needless deaths

During further investigations into the causes of death, coroners were alarmed at the failures in care and slapped 136 NHS bodies with legal cautions. The responsible healthcare providers that were reprimanded for faults throughout the last 6 years consisted of mental health trusts, ambulance services, acute hospitals and GP clinics.

The deaths and findings caused uproar amongst mental health campaigners, and they claimed that many of the fatalities were avoidable and constituted a “tragedy.” Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of the mental health charity Mind asserts: “It is not acceptable that some trusts fail in some of the most fundamental requirements of providing care, with catastrophic consequences.”

He adds: “Every one of these deaths is a tragedy, and it must be deeply difficult for families already having to come to terms with losing a loved one to learn that their death could have been prevented.”

On top of the legal warnings, coroners in Wales and England have handed one or more NHS groups in over 200 cases a “prevention of future deaths notice” (PFDNs). Errors, misjudgements, inconsistent procedures, shortage of beds or staff and inadequate training are just some of the issues brought up by the coroners.

Lawfully, abiding by the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, coroners must serve a notice if they find fault in a person, organization or public body – for example hospital trust, council or government department. The notice should be handed out if shortcomings could cause fatalities unless quick action is taken to overcome them.

In total, 706 failings were found across the 271 deaths reported. It was also discovered that many of those patients under the NHS care for mental health illnesses committed suicide.

Coroners identified various faults in NHS care that attributed to the loss of 271 lives of mental health patients. Photo credit: The Guardian
Coroners identified various faults in NHS care that attributed to the loss of 271 lives of mental health patients. Photo credit: The Guardian

Join your fellow HCPs! Get the latest news and updates sent directly to your inbox – Sign up for a MIMS account today.

High-risk suicide patients were not given the attention needed

With increased awareness about mental healthcare, the demand for treatment might just be too much, too soon for the NHS to cope. This has left patients receiving less than satisfactory care and some are even faced with prolonged delays in accessing treatment.

NHS Providers, Commons health select committee, mental health staff organizations and charities have reasoned that they believe the NHS services are understaffed. Compared with 2010, there are 6,000 fewer mental health nurses in England this year. In addition, there is a fall in numbers of psychiatrists for children and adolescents.

Notably, many of the notices highlighted lack of supervision for patients with clear suicidal intentions, and even inadequate addressing of families’ worries that their loved ones would commit suicide. There were also cases of staff who erred when dealing with patients’ medications.

Parties calling for quick action

Barbara Keeley, Shadow Cabinet Minister for mental health called for an investigation into “the sheer scale of avoidable deaths of mental health patients”. Photo credit: Martin Godwin/The Guardian
Barbara Keeley, Shadow Cabinet Minister for mental health called for an investigation into “the sheer scale of avoidable deaths of mental health patients”. Photo credit: Martin Godwin/The Guardian

Barbara Keeley, the Shadow Cabinet Minister for mental health called for action to be taken by relevant parties as she stated, “These unacceptable failings could have been averted and lives saved with properly funded mental health services, so that patients had timely access to treatment, were not shunted out of area or delayed in getting vital, often life-saving, treatment.”

Commenting on this disclosure, a representative from the Department of Health remarked: “We know there are challenges in accessing some mental health services. That’s why we introduced one of the world’s first waiting-time standards for mental health, with the latest stats showing that we are exceeding our targets for access to talking therapies. We’re committed to ending inappropriate ‘out of area’ placements by 2020, and this is supported by our record amounts of funding into services – spending GBP11.6 billion last year alone, with a further GBP1 billion on top of this by 2021.”

Professor Wendy Burn, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists commented: “While some of the shortcomings are obvious and should be remedied, we need to ensure that mental health services are adequately funded and staffed so that patients can receive the high-quality care they deserve.”

Appreciating the gravity of these findings on an international level, Farmer said: “It’s worrying that so many people in contact with mental health services are reaching the point of taking their own lives or dying of preventable physical health problems. If you’re in hospital for your mental health, you are likely to be at your most vulnerable and the absolute minimum you and your loved ones should expect is that you will be kept safe.” MIMS

Cash-for-cuts: NHS defends profit-sharing schemes as means to stay within budget
Cash-strapped: Minimal benefits and insurance exclusion carves financial prison for mentally ill
OECD-dependent NHS panics as Brexit impedes staffing of EU nationals


Sources:
https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/mar/05/hundreds-of-mental-health-patients-dying-after-nhs-care-failures
https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/mar/06/lack-of-beds-and-staff-for-mental-health-patients-crucial-failings
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/mar/06/the-guardian-view-on-mental-health-saving-lives-requires-money-and-monitoring
https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/mar/06/mental-health-deaths-calls-for-inquiry-into-nhs-failings
http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/nhs-mental-health-treatment-maternal-deaths-underfunding-birth-children-a8242246.html