Mental health and learning disability services are deteriorating, says CQC

Growing pressure on services alongside chronic staffing issues risk creating a ‘perfect storm’ for patients.

Matt Bodell
15 October 2019
nurse on hospital ward

Nearly one in ten acute mental health and learning disability services are now rated as ‘inadequate’.

The quality of care provided by mental health and learning disability services has deteriorated in past last year, a report by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) has warned.

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In the CQC’s annual assessment of the state of health and social care in England, the regulator warns that growing pressures on services alongside chronic staffing issues risk creating a ‘perfect storm’ for patients using mental health and learning disability services.

The report reveals that 10% of learning disability inpatient services and 8% of acute mental health units and psychiatric intensive care units are now rated as ‘inadequate’, compared with just 1% and 2% respectively last year.

Fourteen independent mental health hospitals were placed into special measures since last October and three were closed permanently.

The number of child and adolescent mental health inpatient services rated inadequate has also risen to 8%, up on just 3% last year.

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‘A perfect storm’.

Ian Trenholm, Chief Executive of the Care Quality Commission (CQC) said: “In this year’s State of Care, we have highlighted mental health and learning disability inpatient services because that’s where we are starting to see an impact on quality – and on people.

“There has been a deterioration in ratings in these services – and our inspection reports highlight staff shortages, or care delivered by staff who aren’t trained or supported to look after people with complex needs, as a reason for this.

“Increased demand combined with challenges around workforce and access risk creating a perfect storm – meaning people who need support from mental health, learning disability or autism services may receive poor care, have to wait until they are at crisis point to get the help they need, be detained in unsuitable services far from home, or be unable to access care at all.

‘Immediate and firm action is needed’.

Commenting on the report, Patricia Marquis, Director for RCN England, said:  “With this report, the official inspectors are putting England’s nursing shortage front and centre as a key reason for poor care – no area of care appears safe from the engulfing workforce crisis. Now that their concern is on record, it leaves Ministers with nowhere to turn – they must take immediate and firm action to address the 40,000 unfilled nurse jobs.

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“The CQC is painting a picture of too many nurses reaching burnout or breaking point with patients paying the price. In A&E in particular, nursing staff and their colleagues are left trying to treat patients as best they can in a system without enough capacity or boots on the ground.

“The independent inspection body backs calls made by the RCN and others for a coherent workforce plan and also puts on record its view that the removal of the bursary for nursing students led to a decline in people able to train. Now that it has been recognised here, the Government must act to put at least £1 billion extra per year into nursing education if it hopes to recover lost ground and fill these vital jobs.”

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