A report has found that hundreds of people have experienced serious problems with the way they have been treated at some mental health units in England. The report, from the Care Quality Commission (CQC), reveals that people as young as 11 have been locked up in seclusion rooms, and many others have been subjected to physical restraints or inadequate care. Inspectors noted examples of unexplained injuries, and found that patients at some units had attempted suicide or self-harm in circumstances that could have been prevented.
The report covers the use of force, and practices for keeping people safe, at 220 mental health units across England. Around 70,000 people per year are treated at the units. Inspectors found that one in four units used physical restraints, which can be harmful or traumatic, and only used them appropriately in half of cases. In 15% of the units visited, inspectors found that staff had inappropriately or excessively restrained patients, often leaving people distressed and in pain. Such circumstances further undermine faith, and trust, in the capacity of mental health units to provide safe and effective support during a crisis.
The CQC report also highlights problems with seclusion rooms or ‘safe spaces’ – which are supposed to be used as a place of safety or for calming. Instead, inspectors found that many patients were being locked in these rooms for long periods of time, sometimes days or even weeks, while others found themselves being restrained to access these rooms. In addition, nearly three-quarters of the units failed to provide a safe service, and over half of the mental health units inspected failed to meet the CQC’s minimum standards. The problems highlighted in the report are particularly concerning as people with mental health problems are often in a vulnerable position, and in need of safe, high-quality care.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has called for “urgent” changes in order to improve the quality of care provided, and the way that problems are identified and addressed. Speaking to the BBC, Hunt pledged to increase the number of mental health beds in England, and to introduce safer practices, such as reducing the use of restraint, and improving design and staffing at mental health units. The report has been widely reported in the press, and has prompted calls for urgent activity to address the problems highlighted. A spokesperson for the mental health charity, Mind, has called on the government to ensure that people with mental health issues receive the same level of treatment and care as those with physical health problems.