Mental health deaths rose during the pandemic

November 23rd, 2021

The number of people who died while being treated under the Mental Health Act rose in England during the pandemic, new figures suggest.

The findings of new research carried out by the Care Quality Commission show that 490 people died while detained under the act between March 2020 and March 2021.

This represents a significant increase from the average annual figure for 2012-2019, which was 273. Of the 490 deaths, 324 death certificates had no mention of Covid-19.

The figures have been released amid concerns about staff shortages and growing demand for treatment.

Jeremy Hunt, former Conservative Health Secretary, said that shortages were putting patient health and safety at risk “in every part of the NHS” and described the statistics related to deaths under the Mental Health Act as “very concerning.”

Mental health shortages are well-documented, but almost every part of the NHS is now struggling to fill vacancies and staff units. In light of the situation, Mr Hunt has called for a “radical overhaul” of staff training and recruitment to ensure that there are enough nurses, doctors and other highly-skilled healthcare professionals in the future.

The case of 17-year-old Charlie Millers highlights the pressures staff face. Charlie was sectioned in a secure unit and detained in hospital in Manchester, but after three unsuccessful attempts to take his own life in under three hours while in hospital in December 2020, he died on the fourth.

An investigation found that the unit was severely understaffed at the time and the senior nurse in charge was covering a double shift because there was nobody to take over.

Charlie’s mother, Samantha, said that she was shocked to hear that her son had attempted to take his life three times in less than three hours and questioned how it had been possible for him to even try a fourth time.

Mr Hunt, chair of the Commons Health and Social Care Committee, said that Charlie’s tragic death underlined the need to adopt a community-based alternative to detention in hospital.

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