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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 April, 2004, 09:15 GMT 10:15 UK
Mental health still 'in turmoil'
Depression is a common form of mental illness
Mentally ill patients are being subjected to "harrowing conditions", a group of charities and psychiatrists have said.

Psychiatric wards remain overcrowded, unhygienic and run-down, according to Rethink, SANE, the Zito Trust and doctors.

Some patients were also being denied latest drugs which have less side effects, the group said.

They added government reforms were not happening fast enough.

The group pointed to a 30% increase in patients being sectioned over the past decade, with one in five of all admissions being for patients discharged from the same hospital in the previous three months.

Problems in mental health care
Admissions by section up 30% in past decade
One in five admissions are for patients discharged in the previous three months
There are serious staff and shortages and unacceptable living conditions on many wards
New drugs are still not given in many areas
Up to 90% of staff feel at risk of violence

Sectioning rates in London are twice as high per 100,000 population as the rest of the country.

This is in part because of the higher rates of admission for black and ethnic minority patients, Paul Corry at Rethink said.

Dr Mike Isaac, of the National Association of Psychiatric Intensive Care Units , said sectioning rates were at 150% capacity - patients were being sent home so someone else could take their bed in a process known as "warm bedding".

Marjorie Wallace, at SANE, said: "There can be no freedom of choice or chance of better treatment while the acute wards remain in many places filthy and overcrowded and staff demoralised."

Postcode prescribing

The group said there was evidence of postcode prescribing of the newer antipsychotic drugs called "atypicals".

These drugs have been recommended by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence but a SANE study found they were still not being given to over half of patients.

While cost was a factor in this, clinicians' conservative prescribing habits were also to blame in many cases, Dr Isaac said.

The older, "typical", drugs have a range of side effects including spasms, stiffness and paralysis.

The group wants injectable olanzapine to be widely available nationwide.

Jayne Zito, of the Zito Trust, said: "Too many people with severe mental illness are still being prescribed outdated medicines with intolerable side effects."


The failure of the government to reform services came despite 650 national strategies, guidelines, frameworks and protocols, the group said.

It wants a reduction in the numbers of people sectioned, a cut in the length of patients' stays in hospital, a better experience for patients and staff, and the best treatment to be available to all.

The Department of Health said mental health was a priority for the Government.

A spokesman said: "After years of neglect the system is rapidly improving. But there is lots of work to be done.

"This government is committed to a programme of modernisation of psychiatric wards and patient care with investment of 40m in the last two years."

Moves were underway to improve the safety, privacy and dignity of patients and to provide training and education for staff, the spokesman said.

He added: "There is a statutory obligation on primary care trusts to make the treatments that NICE recommends available to patients.

"The responsibility for prescribing medication rests with the doctor or prescriber who has clinical responsibility for the particular aspects of a patient's care."

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Paul Burstow said: "What this report demonstrates is that the government's fine words are not backed up by action.

"Mental health services continue to suffer from under-investment and the consequences are felt by those with mental health problems who have the right to expect a first class services."

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