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The Independent reports a leaked NHS report uncovering 15,000 deaths in mental health community care

A whistleblower has leaked a report suggesting that there have been around 15,000 deaths within a year in mental health community care.

This figure is staggering and would not have been known about without the leak. After national guidance has started to try and address unsafe practices and deaths within an inpatient setting, families have been expressing concerns for a long time that people are being harmed or dying within the community due to stretched services, lack of joined-up care and long waiting lists to name a few.

This report leak highlights the issues that run deep within mental health care and that the attention of change cannot just focus on inpatient care. Especially as 96-98 percent of service users and patients within mental health care are treated/managed within the community. No wonder there is a severe bed shortage and higher mental health crises when the community care seems so stretched, ineffective and unsafe.

The figures describe numbers between March 2022 – March 2023. What is even more shocking is that these numbers only include general community teams and not crisis team, parental teams or early intervention teams suggesting the actual community care deaths number would be far higher.

The article stated:

A senior NHS source said community care has suffered “decades of neglect” as they accused health leaders of putting too much focus on inpatient hospital services. Community mental health services include care outside of hospitals, including treatment in clinics or at home.

The leaked report reveals that: 

  • At least 137 women died between 2022 and 2023 while under the care of services for pregnant women at one unnamed trust 
  • Nearly one in 10 of the patients treated by a crisis service – designed to help those with the most severe mental health conditions – died while under that care
  • One unnamed mental health trust recorded more than 500 deaths in that year-long period

Further excerpts from the article describe bereaved families and service users experiences of failings.

Natalie McLellan’s 24-year-old daughter Rebecca, a trainee paramedic in the East of England NHS region, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2022. After a year of trying to access mental health care from the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, she was found dead in her flat in November. Ms McLellan described seeing CCTV footage of her daughter outside a mental health hospital, where she begged for help from staff. “I’ve got video footage of her turning to them begging for help. Six minutes of footage of her literally begging them just to [let her] see any health professional,” she told The Independent. “There are literally hundreds or thousands of people that are being affected by those same failings at the trust. My daughter is not just a number. Her suffering was unforgivable. She didn’t need to suffer the way she did.”

Becky Montacute’s mother Julie died in 2018. The year before, she was sectioned for six weeks and then discharged into the community with “barely any follow-up after that point at all”, her daughter claims. “She was basically calling mental health services all the time, saying ‘I’m not very well’ and asking them to review the drugs… she was really trying to get them to help her, and they just didn’t. One of the nurses suggested she try gardening.”

Louise Murmut had a five-year ordeal with community services in Essex, which began when she sought care for a relapse of severe obsessive compulsive disorder while pregnant with her first son. Despite her previous diagnosis, Ms Murmut says, the team treated her for other conditions, including bipolar, using antipsychotic medication that she says “zombified” her. She says that one drug she was prescribed, mirtazapine, caused her to have suicidal thoughts. Eventually, Ms Murmut says, her mental state became so bad that she was admitted to A&E multiple times. Five months later, she was admitted to a mother and baby unit, where she had her son. But her struggle to get care didn’t end there. After she was discharged, she was allegedly told she would have to wait six months for a referral. Her mother, who was caring for her, claims she was forced to go to the team’s offices and beg for someone to respond. Ms Murmut says: “I had a baby that I could not look after. My mother was looking after me and him when he was a baby. To leave us in that situation, to make us wait months and months for something to be done, and to be given incorrect after incorrect treatment… it’s just staggering. “I am lucky to be alive, and my son, who is now five, is lucky to still have me here.”

Families continue to urge for safe care. The Government often gleam about the extra £1Billion that has been put into mental health care to make sure there is a crisis service for each trust however, there is still no prevention before crisis point, there are huge staff shortages for the rate of demand and this document alone should shout loudly that there are current failings across the whole of the mental health care system which is in serious and immediate need of reform.

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