Delays in discharging people from hospital are rising more rapidly in mental health trusts than other parts of the NHS in England, Norman Lamb has learned.
An analysis by NHS England, obtained by the Liberal Democrat Health spokesperson and reported by BBC News, shows that there was a 56% rise in the number of bed days lost to delayed discharges in the 24 trusts specialising in mental health and learning disability care, over the twelve months to October 2016. This compares with a 30% rise in delayed days in acute hospitals across the same period.
A broader analysis - including trusts that provide community as well as mental health services - shows a 43% increase in delayed days.
The chronic shortage in funding for local authorities is a key factor behind the delays, with a lack of available support from community psychiatric nurses and district nurses presenting major challenges for mental health patients waiting to be discharged from hospital beds.
Elderly people with dementia and other chronic conditions can be particularly hard to place, while younger people with mental health and addiction issues are often not considered a priority for community-based support.
Commenting, Liberal Democrat Shadow Health Secretary Norman Lamb, who obtained NHS England’s analysis of delayed days in each type of trust, said:
“This significant increase in delayed discharges in mental health is a hidden scandal which demands the Government’s urgent attention. People often talk about the disastrous rise in patients stuck in acute hospital beds, but these figures suggest that the deterioration is even more serious in the mental health system.
“It paints a bleak picture of a system struggling to cope with unprecedented demand for treatment at a time when many mental health trusts have once again reported cuts to their budgets.
"If patients cannot be discharged it often leaves hospitals full to overflowing. The knock-on effect is that patients needing inpatient care are sent out of area because there are no beds available - an outrageous practice which is associated with an increased risk of suicide. This is intolerable.
“Mental health services in the NHS remain scandalously under-funded, but it is made worse by the squeeze on local authority budgets. A radical upgrade in mental health care in the community and the home is essential if we are to achieve genuine equality for people with mental ill health, and put a stop to this dreadful rise in mental health patients being stuck in hospital.”