Failures of specialist mental health unit exposed by patients

A BBC investigation has unveiled that there are serious concerns over the standards of specialist care being provided to patients with the most complex mental health needs.

The BBC's File on 4 programme has found has found that patients sent by the NHS to stay in mental health rehabilitation units say they have been placed in unsafe environments, often far from home, with untrained staff. Experts say not enough is being done to regulate the sector, which costs the NHS half a billion pounds a year.

The units, run by both NHS and independent providers, treat at least 3,500 patients each year considered too challenging for standard hospital settings. They aim to offer a specialised approach, enabling patients to recover with skills to manage their conditions and re-enter the community. But some have remained there for 10 or more years.

The system in England is regulated by the Care Quality Commission, (CQC). Some rehabilitation wards haven't been inspected for four or more years. But there are also concerns that the CQC is failing to sufficiently examine the claims of wards that promote themselves as a specialist service, and John Chacksfield, who was a CQC inspector until late 2020, agrees that greater scrutiny is needed.

According to 2019 CQC research, some 40 per cent of patients in ‘locked’ rehabilitation wards are placed outside their local area. The government has aimed to end ‘inappropriate out-of-area placements’ within acute wards, but not within rehabilitation wards - despite individuals potentially being placed there for much longer.

The Department of Health and Social Care said it was ‘rolling out integrated community mental health teams which will give 370,000 people with severe mental illness greater choice over their care’.

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