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Friday, 7 July, 2000, 23:11 GMT 00:11 UK
Mental hospital wards 'dire'
Mentally ill patient
Mentally ill patients 'are being failed' by the system
Staff who work in the UK's acute mental hospitals are ashamed by their dire state, according to a leading psychiatrist.

Dr Peter Kennedy, a consultant psychiatrist and co-director of the Northern Centre for Mental Health, has painted a bleak picture of the state of the service being offered to some of the most vulnerable people in society.

He told the Royal College of Psychiatrists' annual meeting in Edinburgh that patients were being failed by the system and nurses were leaving in disgust.

Imagine going out for a walk and coming back to your ward to find someone else was in your bed

Dr Peter Kennedy, Northern Centre for Mental Health

He said hospitals were overcrowded, and that patients were "lonely, bored and sometimes frightened".

Dr Kennedy said although 70% of mental health spending was devoted to acute care, the state of acute wards across the UK was "dire".

He told delegates in Edinburgh resources were so limited that it was becoming increasingly common practice to move patients into temporarily vacant beds.

Dr Kennedy monitored conditions in acute wards in 20 NHS Trusts in the north of England between last October and January this year.

Moveable object

He said: "Imagine going out for a walk and coming back to your ward to find someone else was in your bed and all your possessions had been removed from your cupboard.

"You're a moveable object rather than an individual."

He said patients often felt disorientated while nurses described feeling "fraught and understaffed" and not having the skills needed for the job thrust upon them.

He told the Edinburgh conference that people making the decision to admit someone to an acute ward were often those least equipped to do so, such as the family doctor or a junior doctor with just a few months' experience.

Dr Kennedy said efficient mental health care in the community should be backed up by good in-patient care.

'A victim of success'

He said: "Hospital care is a victim of the success of community care.

"The best and most ambitious nurses work in the community and in-patient care is often ignored."

He said adopting a collaborative approach, where mental health staff devised their own solutions rather than blindly following hard-and-fast rules laid down by management, could be used beneficially in acute mental health settings.

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