Thousands of mental health patients in England are being treated in ‘unsafe’ and unfit buildings, Britain’s most senior psychiatrist has warned.
Dr Adrian James, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, has urged the government to fund six new mental health hospitals as part of its pledge to build 48 new hospitals by 2030.
Crumbling NHS buildings, leaking roofs and faulty equipment are putting the country’s most seriously mentally ill people at risk and hampering their chances of recovery, James said.
The government has pledged billions of dollars in funding to build 48 hospitals by 2030. Of the first 40 hospital projects announced, only two were for mental health, according to the college. The final eight projects have yet to be named, but James said at least six of them should be aimed at mental health patients, to “address the imbalance in the program”.
“Thousands of people with mental illness in England are being treated in dangerously old and inadequate mental health hospitals,” James said. “Across the country, psychiatrists must assess and treat patients in collapsing and collapsing buildings.
“People with mental illness will be left behind unless we have buildings suitable for them. The government can no longer afford to pretend to respect parity and treat mental health as an afterthought. We need a firm commitment from the government that at least six of the new hospitals will be dedicated to mental health.
A total of 269 psychiatrist colleagues of James wrote a letter to their MP outlining their concerns about the dire state of mental health hospitals. They also issued a warning that the number of people requiring mental health support is unlikely to fall to pre-pandemic levels. Data shows record numbers of people are seeking help as NHS staff struggle to cope with the huge backlog of care.
The Covid crisis has led to a wave of new or worsening cases of mental health issues. Mental health care has also deteriorated during the pandemic, with people not getting the support they need and not knowing who to turn to in a crisis, which itself has further damaged the mental health of some people.
The most recent Care Quality Commission (CQC) survey of 17,322 people who used NHS community mental health services in England in 2020 and 2021 found that people’s experience in certain areas of care is to its lowest level in eight years.
While the area of the NHS as a whole needs urgent attention, mental health facilities need it more than most, the psychiatrists’ letter to MPs says. “Compared to the general acute domain, almost twice the mental health domain used today was built before 1948.
“These crumbling NHS buildings, with leaking roofs and faulty equipment – coupled with the failure to implement Covid safety measures such as social distancing – are putting patients at risk and hampering their recovery.”
According to the most recent NHS data available, the ‘high risk’ maintenance backlog at mental health and learning disabilities sites has increased by 34% on the previous year and 336% on four years ago, the college said.
A retired psychiatrist told his MP: “Do you realize that over my working life the availability and quality of inpatient psychiatric facilities in the UK has deteriorated dramatically?
“A lot of people mistakenly think that ‘things have to get better’ but it’s the opposite. Only serious action on the part of the government can end this drift towards a total failure to provide care for people with serious forms of mental illness.
The Department of Health and Social Care has been approached for comment.