Detainments surged during first lockdown, with women most affected

Updated: Aug 23, 2021

The number of people detained under the Mental Health Act surged during the first COVID-19 lockdown, with women disproportionately affected.

Revealed in a joint investigation by EachOther and openDemocracy, some NHS Trusts saw a rise in detentions of as much as 25%.

A person can be detained under Section 2 of the Mental Health Act, which involves being kept in hospital for up to 28 days, if a team of professionals think it to be the best way to provide them care and treatment.

Detainment is used in cases where a person's health is at risk of worsening without treatment, or where a person is at risk or poses a risk to someone else's safety.

According to the new findings, obtained through a series of Freedom of Information requests, rates of detention under the Mental Health Act rose significantly for many NHS Trusts.

Four of the 44 NHS Trusts from which data was requested saw a rise in detentions of more than a quarter during the first lockdown, including Solent NHS Trust (38%), Gloucestershire Health and Care NHS Foundation Trust (36%), and Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust (27%).

Particularly concerning are the detention rates for women: 7 Trusts saw a rise of at least 20%, with the highest increase of 48% at the Gloucestershire Health and Care NHS Foundation Trust.

The Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust (38%), Northamptonshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust (33%), and Rotherham Doncaster and South Humber NHS Foundation Trust (28%) all reported increases of over 25% in female detentions.

Change in mental health detention rates during the first COVID-19 lockdown
Change in detention rates during the first COVID-19 lockdown. Source: openDemocracy and EachOther.

Read more: Mental health of women and ethnic minorities hardest hit by COVID-19

The new data follows similar findings published in January which suggested that women and ethnic minorities had been most affected by lockdown.

Analysing data from the UK Household Study which included over 14,000 people from across the country, white women and women from a black, asian or minority ethnic background had experienced a 12% and 13% respective increase in mental distress.

In comparison, white men had experienced a 6.5% increase.

A spokesperson from the Department for Health and Social Care commented on the new report, insisting that mental health had remained a priority throughout the pandemic.

“We have increased support for those with severe mental illness providing an additional £50m for good-quality discharge from inpatient settings, 24/7 urgent helplines in every trust in England for those experiencing a crisis, and given an additional £500m for mental health and the NHS workforce as part of the spending review."

Plans to reform the Mental Health Act were announced earlier this year in a government white paper.

The paper, based on recommendations set out in a 2018 independent review, suggested several changes intended to improve patient power and choice, particularly with regards to detainment.

'Advance choice documents', which let people decide what care they receive if they need to be detained, were proposed, alongside the ability for an individual to nominate a person to look after their interests if they aren’t able to do so themselves.


Written by Marco Ricci

Editor and contributor for Talking Mental Health

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