Rise in patients absconding from mental health wards

Concern over security in psychiatric units as newspaper reports 64% increase in patients escaping

Security within mental health units is under the spotlight after a Freedom of Information request revealed the number of patients absconding has risen by up to 64% in the past three years.

The figures from 19 mental health trusts showed that incidents involving patients vanishing from units, or failing to return from authorised leave, have soared by 38%, from 2,438 incidents in 2014 to 3,139 in 2016.

Unless the Government creates or re-opens psychiatric units and, most importantly, fills the vacancies in psychiatric nursing, then the numbers wanting to abscond will continue to increase

Only four of the trusts showed a decrease in reports of absenteeism, reports The Telegraph.

It found that the Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust had seen a 64% increase - the same figure reported by the East London Foundation Trust, which covers more than 40 inpatient and outpatient mental health units.

The findings come in the light of sweeping cuts to mental health budgets, which have seen funding for the speciality slashed by around 8% between 2011-2015.

Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of mental health charity, SANE, said she was not surprised by the figures, which come against a backdrop of nursing shortages.

She told the paper: “We hear reports almost constantly of appalling conditions on wards.

“People report that wards are overcrowded and often rife with aggression, fear, and illegal drugs, with too few, and often-demoralised, staff.

“The difficulty is striking a balance between the rights of patients to rehabilitation and recovery with protection of themselves and the general public.

“Unless the Government creates or re-opens psychiatric units and, most importantly, fills the vacancies in psychiatric nursing, then the numbers wanting to abscond will continue to increase. Patients will become lost within the system.”

Psychiatric wards experiencing a rise in numbers of patients who abscond need to respond quickly by building an understanding of why this might be happening and putting in place measures to prevent it happening in the future

The findings will also undoubtedly lead to calls for improved security and pressure on manufacturers to innovate in terms of improving the environments from which mental health services are delivered.

"Psychiatric wards experiencing a rise in numbers of patients who abscond need to respond quickly by building an understanding of why this might be happening and putting in place measures to prevent it happening in the future,” said Vicki Nash, head of policy and campaigns at charity, Mind.

“We know that mental health services have been underfunded for decades and, while the NHS has committed to spending an extra £1billion on mental health; we need to see that money reaching the frontline and resulting in improved care and support for people with mental health problems,” she added.

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