The number of mental health beds in NHS hospitals in England has dropped by 25% over the past 11 years, according to a new analysis by the Labour Party.
According to the party's investigation, the NHS in England has nearly 6000 fewer beds available for people with serious mental health issues, falling from 23,447 in 2010/11 to 17,610 in 2020/21.
The number of specialist mental health beds has decreased too by roughly 1500.
The reduction in beds contrasts with the rise in demand for mental health support in recent years – according to NHS England data, the number of people in contact with NHS mental health services rose by 21% from 117,000 in 2016 to 141,000 in March this year.
Those in contact who were subject to the Mental Health Act also rose dramatically, increasing by 53% from 13,437 to 20,494 within the same timeframe.
The drop in bed numbers has lead to many people who are seriously ill travelling far away from their home to get treatment.
Those that had to travel more than 300km from their home to access treatment has risen from 38 in 2017 to 75 in 2020.
“These figures are staggering," Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, shadow minister for mental health, told The Guardian. "With bed availability at dangerous levels owing to cuts, and numbers of patients increasing, there is a perfect storm.
“The cuts to mental health beds have exacerbated waiting times for treatment for some of the most serious mental illnesses. Without beds, people requiring urgent treatment for eating disorders, schizophrenia and personality disorders are likely to face even longer waits.”
Based on consistent reports of rising numbers of mental health issues caused by the pandemic, Labour's report paints a concerning picture.
Even more concerning is that very few beds are available now – according to one poll by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, almost all mental health beds in England are already occupied.
But plans have been put into place to meet any increased requirements, said a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson.
“It is completely unacceptable for patients to be sent away from their loved ones for treatment and we have committed to end inappropriate out-of-area placements.
“We have published our mental health recovery action plan, backed by £500m, to ensure that we have the right support in place this year for those who need it.
"This is in addition to our commitment to expand and transform mental health services with an additional £2.3bn a year by 2023/24 and introducing new models of care to give 370,000 adults with serious mental illness greater choice and control over their care, supporting them to live well in their communities.”
Written by Marco Ricci Editor and contributor for Talking Mental Health