A survey by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) found that one in five people did not feel safe while in the care of the NHS mental health service that treated them.
More than half of people with mental health problems in England also said they experienced delays to their treatment, while four in ten (42%) said that they waited too long to be diagnosed.
When asked to share details of their experiences, one survey participant said that after they attempted to take their own life, they had to wait more than six months to be referred to a specialist mental health team. Another said they felt they had been ‘talked over and about, not to’.
Despite the concerns raised by patients about their treatment in the survey, almost half (48%) said they would be unlikely to complain if they were unhappy with the service provided. Almost 70% of people said they had not been told how to complain by NHS staff.
While one in three people (32%) said they did not think their complaint would be taken seriously while a quarter were worried complaining would affect how they were treated. The main reason given (40%) was that they would not want ‘to cause trouble’.
A spokesman for the PHSO said the results are reinforced by the tragic case of Erica Henderson who took her own life when she was an inpatient at 2gether NHS Foundation Trust.
She was being treated for schizophrenia and epilepsy at the mental health trust and Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, but was not observed regularly enough, despite having made several attempts to take her own life.
Miss Henderson’s sister, Peggy Saleeb-Mousa, said: ‘Failures by the Trusts led to the death of my dearest twin sister, who would not have died if her seizures and mental health issues had been properly addressed.
‘Nobody should suffer like that. I complained to the Ombudsman so that other people will never have to go through what she did.’
Ombudsman Rob Behrens said: ‘It’s unacceptable that so many patients requiring mental health treatment are left feeling unsafe in the NHS but this survey supports what we see too frequently in our casework.
‘Patients must be supported to speak up when mistakes happen and not left scared that their treatment will be affected if they do so.
‘While the NHS in England must continue to implement its Five Year Forward View for Mental Health, it should also look now at what more is needed to transform mental health services so the people who need them get the care they deserve.’
Sean Duggan, chief executive of the Mental Health Network, which is part of the NHS Confederation, said the best way to ensure facilities are safe and up-to-date is to recruit the right staff.
‘Stretched staff work tirelessly to give the best possible care, and to give service users a voice, but this report shows clearly we still need to make significant progress.
‘The vision set out in the NHS Long Term Plan will help, but we need renewed support from Government to recruit and retain the right number of people, to ensure facilities are safe and up-to-date and that legislation is appropriate.
‘The return of the maintenance grant for student nurses is positive and the forthcoming People Plan must also have solutions to increase the supply and help us to better retain our staff.
‘Mental health facilities, which are among the worst across the system, were underrepresented in the Government’s capital investment plans and that needs to be put right.
‘We also await the promised legislation to modernise the Mental Health Act which will make a big difference to ensuring that those who have reached the point of crisis receive the care they need.’
An NHS spokesperson said a mental health safety improvement programme is underway and will focus specifically on supporting the zero suicide ambition within inpatient settings from 2020/21 onwards.
‘We expect all mental health services to provide good quality and safe care, and trusts are now working hard to develop and deliver plans to support the zero suicide ambition within inpatient settings.
‘Already, tens of thousands more patients are accessing NHS mental health care than even a year ago, and services will continue to expand further thanks to a minimum £2.3bn of extra investment a year by 2023/24 as part of the Long Term Plan.’
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