Second report in a week reveals need for major overhaul of mental health wards

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The King's Fund today reissued its call for a major overhaul of adult psychiatric wards after the second report in a week on the state of mental health services in England revealed serious staff shortages on wards.

In response to the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health's national survey of acute inpatient mental health wards, The King’s Fund chief executive Niall Dickson said:

'For the second time in a week a major report into mental health services reveals serious shortcomings - this time the concern is staffing levels. It reveals a desperate need for improvement and it is now time for a concerted effort by government and mental health trusts to deliver the better quality care that is desperately needed.

'This report, like the Healthcare Commission and Royal College of Psychiatrists' audit earlier this week, shows that too often services are poor. There are not enough staff, with not enough skills, and there are not enough therapeutic activities available for patients. Alarmingly, this is at a time when an increasing number of patients have complex needs involving both mental health and substance misuse problems, increasing the risk of violence and aggression on wards.

'In particular, we are concerned about the picture in London where severe staff shortages continue to hamper mental health services. As of June 2004, there were nearly 600 qualified nursing vacancies in the capital’s mental health trusts, while vacancy rates among community psychiatrists in London are nearly double that of other parts of England.

'The good thing is that we know what needs to be done to improve mental health services - we need more staff, better training, more activities for patients and a clampdown on people bringing illicit drugs and alcohol on to wards. Mental health trusts now need to take a long, hard look at how they provide inpatient psychiatric services to ensure they improve both staffing levels and the environment of wards. They must become places that can genuinely aid patient recovery and that are good places for staff to work.'

The need to improve staff skills in supporting patients with complex needs was a key finding of The King's Fund's 18-month inquiry into London's mental health care, published in November 2003. It recommended that:

  • mental health trusts review conditions, staffing levels and skill mix in acute inpatient wards
  • mental health trusts prioritise training for ward staff on dual diagnosis and complex needs.

Notes to editors

1. For further information or interviews, please contact the King’s Fund media and public relations office on 020 7307 2585. An ISDN line is available for interviews on 020 7637 0185.

2. In November 2003, the King's Fund published the findings from its 18-month inquiry into London's mental health care. London's State of Mind: King's Fund Mental Health Inquiry 2003, by Ros Levenson, Angela Greatley and Janice Robinson, warned that the Government's pledge to modernise mental health services is failing in London. It said that while there are many examples of good services, London remains reliant on admitting people with mental health problems to hospital rather than helping them stay in the community. Media can obtain free copies of the report by contacting the King's Fund media and public relations office on 020 7307 2585 or 07831 554927.

3. The King's Fund is an independent charitable foundation working for better health, especially in London. We carry out research, policy analysis and development activities, working on our own, in partnerships, and through grants. We are a major resource to people working in health, offering leadership and education courses; seminars and workshops; publications; information and library services; and conference and meeting facilities.