More mental health patients are at risk of death, for one simple reason

NHS under the Tories
Sam Woolfe

Data published by NHS Dorset HealthCare show that the number of unexpected deaths of mental health patients in Dorset has risen by almost 50% in three years. A BBC Panorama programme earlier this month reported the same figure. How could this be happening? One simple reason: there’s no money.

Chronic underfunding

Dr Andrew Mayers, a patron for Dorset Mind, laid the blame on Tory cuts to mental health services. He said:

These deaths are an illustration that, despite promises from Government, mental health is underfunded and under-resourced. Already vulnerable people simply should not be dying because of mental illness. We need real investment otherwise people will continue to die. I will do all I can to press for that investment.

Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of mental health charity SANE, reiterated this point. She said:

The Government has claimed it is spending more money on mental health than ever before, but according to professionals, little of this is reaching the frontline as it is not ring-fenced and instead seeps into other areas of the general health budget.

As previously reported at The Canary, the number of mental health nurses has dropped by 15% since the Tories came into power in 2010.

Of course, Tory cuts have hit the NHS hard in general. But mental health services are being squeezed disproportionately .

Other reasons

Wallace points to ways in which these unexpected deaths could have been prevented. Steps could have been taken to prevent seriously ill people leaving hospital. Community teams could have responded earlier and spent more time with patients. And ‘red alert’ warnings (the concerns of family and friends) should have been taken more seriously.

There are too few beds. And there’s a workforce crisis. But we can also see that mental health patients are not having their needs met. This too could be due to a lack of funding, since proper mental health training is clearly lacking. Red alerts should always be taken seriously.

Fiona Haughey, director of nursing and quality at Dorset HealthCare, says we should consider another reason for these shocking figures. She said:

we believe this figure partly reflects changes to the way deaths are recorded and investigated.

But is the same figure presented by the BBC Panorama programme also due to the way deaths are recorded? This widespread trend would suggest that another driving factor is at play: austerity measures. This government has broken its promise on ‘parity of esteem’: mental health being given equal priority to physical health. This suggests a government that simply does not care about mental health; that believes mental health patients do not deserve the same level of care as other patients. Once again, we can see how vulnerable and marginalised citizens are being left behind by this government.

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– Support SANE, Mind and Time To Change.

Featured image via Flickr

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