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Wednesday, 13 October, 1999, 17:02 GMT 18:02 UK
14.6m pledged for mental health beds
Some mentally ill patients have been turned away because of bed shortages
The government has announced the allocation of extra secure beds for the most seriously mentally ill.

Mental Health
Health minister John Hutton said there would be 221 additional places across England - double the number first anticipated last year.

Mental health experts welcomed the announcement, but said they believed the figures may have been manipulated by the government.

They say the additional beds are not backed by any extra cash, since the government announced earlier that it was investing 14.5m in secure places.

"They must have known how many places that would fund," said Matt Muijen of the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health.

London will get the most cash - some 3m which will fund 55 new beds.

Mr Hutton said the places would provide greater security for the public as well as better treatment for the mentally ill.

Bed shortage

Pressure on a range of mental health beds, including secure beds, has been intense in recent years following the closure of the old long-stay hospitals and cutbacks in mental health budgets.

A shortage of secure beds for the most severely ill can have a knock-on effect on other areas of mental health provision, although mental health charities say this only affects a small proportion of patients.

The worst pressure is in local hospital acute beds, where psychiatrists complain that a lack of places means they can only allocate beds to the most seriously ill, regardless of whether they think a person may need in-hospital treatment.

However, a shortage of medium secure beds can mean people in high secure beds who are getting better are unable to move.

Pressure

Mr Hutton said: "The pressure for beds in medium secure units is high.

"There are small numbers of patients who need more secure conditions to be properly cared for because their behaviour or dangerousness prevents them from being treated in a local unit or in the community."


John Hutton: Pressure for mental health beds is high
He added that the government wanted to offer a wider range of services for the mentally ill to cater for all their different needs.

According to the government, one in seven adults suffers from a mental health problem, although mental health charities say the number may be higher.

Around four people in 1,000 are estimated to have a severe mental illness, such as schizophrenia or manic depression.

Some 11,500 people are detained in hospital or mental nursing homes under mental health legislation.

A spokesman for the National Schizophrenia Fellowship welcomed the extra money for "the Cinderella of the health service".

But he added: "Secure beds address a need for a tiny minority of people with severe mental illness and we look forward to future announcements of extra funding for the vast majority of people with severe mental illness who will never need a secure bed."

Melba Wilson, policy director of mental health charity Mind, said: "The emphasis should not be on beds. While some are needed, secure beds are only for a minority. The focus should be on care in the community."

It welcomed a recent government announcement of 19m to extend the number of 24-hour staffed beds, assertive outreach teams and new drug treatments.

But said more money was needed for these kind of community-based initiatives.

Mr Hutton also announced the allocation of 3.7m to the eight NHS regions in England to help them implement the Mental Health National Service Framework.

This will be published shortly and will set out the kind of service mentally ill patients can expect across the country.

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