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Thursday, 6 September, 2001, 10:51 GMT 11:51 UK
Mental health services 'deteriorating'
Services for the mentally ill are inadequate, say doctors
Services for the mentally ill are inadequate, say doctors
Psychiatrists say care for the mentally ill is a "Cinderella service" with insufficient funding.

Seventy consultants were surveyed by the mental health charity SANE, to mark the organisation's 15th anniversary.

They were asked for their views of services over the last 15 years, during which the Care in the Community programme was introduced and many of the old asylums were closed.

Lack of trained staff and structured activities meant that many units offer little more than bleak containment

Marjorie Wallace,
Almost half said in-patient services had deteriorated.

Two thirds said more funding, more staff and beds and better facilities for patients were all crucial for the improvement of mental health care.

'Rhetoric and reality'

Mental health is a key priority for the government, and there is a National Service Framework outlining how care should be delivered.

But virtually all those questioned, 91%, say there is a "worrying gap" between the rhetoric and reality of mental health services, both in hospitals and in the community.

My energy and commitment are the same, my frustration is more and my demoralisation is increasing

Survey respondent
One told the survey: "My energy and commitment are the same, my frustration is more and my demoralisation is increasing."

Sixty per cent of psychiatrists said that since Labour came to power, in-patient facilities have either not changed, or have deteriorated.

They say services for children and adolescent services need radical improvement.

In addition, changes need to be made in the way day care and other services are provided to better bridge the gap between hospital and community care.

And, despite the fact that mental health care is meant to have been shifted into the community over the last 15 years, 42% said care in the community has either not changed, or has got worse.

Only 37% say care has improved.

'Bleak containment'

Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of SANE, said her own visits to in-patient and community services had confirmed the picture painted by the survey.

She said there were "depressing conditions" in many acute wards, with overcrowding, delapidation, drugs and aggression all prevalent.

"Lack of trained staff and structured activities meant that many units offer little more than bleak containment."

Ms Wallace said the 30m promised by the government for refurbishment had come too late.

She added: "This survey is the most revealing indictment by people at the coal face of the shortcomings of government policies.

"It is disappointing that despite all the promises and efforts to modernise mental health services, mentally ill people and those responsible for their care should continue to be let down so badly by the system."

Professor John Cox, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists told BBC News Online the survey gave a true picture of what was happening around the country.

He said there was an expectation things would improve - and the next few years would be crucial for the service.

"We are on a knife-edge, because there is a perception things will get better. If they don't, that will be very serious."

He said there were severe shortages of nursing and medical staff - with a 14% shortfall in the number of consultants needed.

He added: "I know that in-patient facilities in-patient facilities in three-quarters of mental health services are really inadequate.

"There are places where acute in-patient units are just not therapeutic because the physical environment is awful."

See also:

09 Jul 01 | Health
Boost for mental health care
07 Jul 00 | Health
Mental hospital wards 'dire'
06 Apr 01 | Health
30m to revamp mental health wards
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