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21.03.18

NHS Ombudsman calls out ‘harrowing’ failings in mental health care

A damning report by the NHS watchdog has laid bare a number of “serious failings” in English mental health service.

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO), Rob Behrens, analysed more than 200 complaints and highlighted cases where mistakes made by NHS staff had led to a “human cost”, including several preventable deaths.

The report also says that the problems are not isolated to individual failures but are symptomatic of persistent problems, which come up repeatedly in complaints submitted to Behrens.

Mistakes – including failing to properly diagnose conditions and discharging patients from care too soon – can lead to “catastrophic consequences” the PHSO said.

“The cases we have identified demonstrate the importance of maintaining momentum in improving mental health services, to ensure patients receive the safe, effective care they need and prevent the same mistakes happening to others,” Behrens commented.

“Patients who use specialist mental health services are among the most vulnerable in our society. As a result, any serious failings on the part of the organisations providing these services can have catastrophic consequences for them.”

The report points to five “common failings” that can affect mental health trusts, specifically highlighting inadequate assessment of risk and poor lines of communication between patients, families and healthcare providers.

It hits on a number of anonymous patients who suffered because of NHS mental health service failures, such as Ms J and Mr O who both died as a result of misdiagnosis.

Behrens also questions the handling of certain “at risk” patients who had not been given the appropriate information and suffered from poor care or increased stress and anxiety because of their interactions with staff.

Responding to the findings, Brian Dow, director of external affairs at Rethink Mental Illness, said: “This judicious report from the Ombudsman reflects what our supporters have been telling us for years: that our overstretched services are failing them time and time again.

“These findings underline the desperate need for reform and the sometimes-devastating consequences of a struggling system. We do now have a blueprint for change but this will need drive and funding to achieve its aims, or we will continue to hear stories like these.”

The news follows on from earlier criticism of the NHS for its provision of mental health services, after the CQC called for stronger leadership to ensure that care was properly delivered.

While inspectors applauded improvements across a number of the country’s mental health trusts, it said that more still needs to be done to bring mental healthcare into line with acute services.

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