Why Are Mental Health Services Failing The Most Vulnerable?


The Law Of… Tackling The Mental Health Services Crisis

By proposing a £1.3billion injection of human resources to national NHS mental health services, the Government appears to be making steps towards restoring a sector that continues to be oversubscribed but severely underfunded.

But will this be enough to tackle the serious issues caused by the lack of support for the most vulnerable?

Jessica Beckerleg, Paralegal in our Public Law team, takes a more detailed look at the issue.

Waiting Over A Hundred Days For Mental Health Support

The tensions currently facing this sector are starkly illustrated when you consider current figures on adults with eating disorders in the UK. Over the last 6 years, the number of men who have developed eating disorders has risen by 70%.

Last year, figures also showed a waiting time of up to 182 days for adults trying to access mental health treatment for these conditions.

"Conditions like this can easily deteriorate", Jessica explains. "For people really struggling, these extensive waiting times are likely to have a serious impact on their ability to recover. This is not acceptable."

Failing The Vulnerable – The Case Of X 

Within the legal realm, the severity of the danger created by this national under-resourcing has also been highlighted by Sir Munby within his recent judgement Re X (A Child) (No 3) [2017] EWHC 2036 (Fam).

Describing this as an "outrage", Sir Munby blamed an ongoing lack of resources for requiring the undignified care provided to child X whilst she awaits an appropriate discharge placement: 

"What this case demonstrates…is the disgraceful and utterly shaming lack of proper provision in this country of the clinical, residential and other support services so desperately needed by the increasing number of children and young people [afflicted with severe and enduring mental health needs]…It is a disgrace to any country with pretensions to civilisation, compassion and, dare one say it, basic human decency that a judge in 2017 should be faced with the problems thrown up by this case."

Sir Munby’s disdain for the funding crisis in the sector is self-evident. He even goes so far as to state that: 

"If, when in eleven days’ time [child X] is released from ZX, we, the system, society, the State, are unable to provide X with the supportive and safe placement she so desperately needs, and if, in consequence, she is enabled to make another attempt on her life, then I can only say, with bleak emphasis: we will have blood on our hands." 

A Health Service At Breaking Point

When faced with this sad reality, it is no wonder that many committed professionals working within these service constraints have already left the sector in frustration or are burnt out, tired of having to "do their best, as they are doing, having regard to the [limited] resources made available to them" [Sir Munby, Re X, paragraph 32].

Those who remain are now voicing scepticism regarding the 'ambitious' measures the Government is planning to put in place.

The Royal College of Nursing stringently criticised the Government’s proposed plans, stating that they "appear not to add up" because "mental health and community care are two of the areas hardest hit by the severe shortage of nurses." This leaves the amount of time available to train new specialist professionals, who will be required to realise the policy aim of ensuring an extra 1million people can be treated by 2021, open to criticism and question.

Other professional bodies such as the British Medical Associations have cautiously welcomed proposals for change. But, they have also highlighted that the depth of damage to the mental health sector in recent years cannot be rectified by an increase in staff numbers, reinforcing that "bed occupancy rates are dangerously high and some buildings and estates in mental health trusts are entirely unfit for purpose."

Jessica comments:

"Whilst it is clear that steps detailed by the Government aim for widespread change, it is arguable that these measures may in practice fail to address the gulf of difficulty that already exists within mental health services as a result of systematic and repetitive cuts."

"But, whilst this continues the ability of this sector to positively impact the wellbeing of those requiring its services is not only at risk but more seriously, in doubt."

"In the words of Sir Munby: 'One of the measures of a civilised society is how well it looks after the most vulnerable members of its society. If this is the best we can do for X, and others in similar crisis, what right do we, what right do the system, our society and indeed the State itself, have to call ourselves civilised?’.”

"Sir Munby is right, more really does need to be done."

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