Thousands of mental health patients are being kept in secure wards for years at a time when they should be being rehabilitated and preparing to leave hospital, a NHS watchdog has revealed.
The Care Quality Commission (CQC) criticised both NHS and for-profit mental health providers for forcing such a large number of patients to endure what it called “outdated and sometimes institutionalised care”, often miles from home. The practice leaves already vulnerable patients feeling isolated and less likely to recover, the CQC warned.
More than 3,500 patients in 248 mental health wards are kept locked-in. In 2015-16 some stayed for 45 days, but others had been there for up to 1,744 days – four and a half years – the care regulator found.
“More than 50 years after the movement to close asylums and large institutions, we were concerned to find examples of outdated and sometimes institutionalised care,” said Paul Lelliott, the CQC’s deputy chief inspector of hospitals.
“We are particularly concerned about the high number of people in ‘locked rehabilitation wards’. These wards are often situated a long way from the patient’s home, meaning people are isolated from their friends and families. In the 21st century, a hospital should never be considered ‘home’ for people with a mental health condition.”
The disclosure prompted a senior doctor to claim that some mental health patients were being subjected to Victorian-era care. Dr Mike Hunter, a consultant psychiatrist and medical director of an NHS mental health trust in Sheffield, likened the procedure to a “Victorian approach” to treatment.