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Mental Health: More than Just a Winter Crisis11th December 2018 Clinical Negligence
Mental health has received an upsurge in NHS attention over the past few months.
In September 2018, NHS Resolution published their report entitled ‘Learning from Suicide Related Claims’. Of the 89 Serious Incident Reports reviewed, 46% cited ‘poor communication’ between services as a contributing factor. The report also found that risk assessments were inadequate in 78% of cases, either because they had failed to account for new information or for anything other than the most basic of considerations.
In October 2018, the government pledged an additional £2 billion for improving access to mental health services, although funding will not commence until the 2019/2020 tax year.
In November 2018 we learned that the NHS will start investigating the deaths of more than 100,000 mental health patients in a bid to reduce the number of people dying from poor care. This decision comes more than five years after the well-publicised death of Connor Sparrowhawk following a string of failures by Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust.
On 7 December 2018, it was announced that people suffering a mental health crisis will receive help within four hours. The same four-hour target currently exists in respect of A&E treatment for physical ailments. Arguably, this represents a step towards giving mental health the same recognition and priority as physical health.
Whilst increasing funding, improving access, and maximising opportunities for learning and prevention are to be praised, the issues run much deeper and exist at the most basic levels. The death of 21 year of Rupert Green is a stark reminder of the practical problems that exist with the delivery of day-to-day care. At the recent inquest into his death, Coroner Anna Crawford noted the failure of a nurse employed by Surrey and Borders NHS Trust to assess and subsequently refer Rupert for specialist input despite his mother’s requests for help.
As someone with a family member who suffers from mental illness, I have first-hand experience of the inadequacies of our local mental health service. Working in the clinical negligence team at JMW I also regularly see the catastrophic consequences these inadequacies can have. Beyond issues of funding, they reflect a lack of understanding of the patient’s history beyond anything other than the superficial facts, poor planning in respect of both acute incidents and long-term care, and a general lack of appreciation of what the patient perceives as being “good care„.
The Health Secretary has recently said that it will “take a generation to put mental health services on the same footing as services for physical health„. Whilst it is appreciated that access cannot be increased overnight, training staff, addressing deficiencies with the practical delivery of care, and ensuing that ways of working are fit for purpose can and should be tackled much sooner.