Rise in deaths of mental health patients needs investigating, says MP

BMJ 2016; 352 doi: (Published 26 January 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;352:i518
  1. Gareth Iacobucci
  1. 1The BMJ

The UK government has been urged to launch an investigation into the provision of mental healthcare in England, after new figures showed that the number of reports of patients dying unexpectedly has risen 21% over the past three years.

The figures, obtained by the Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb, show that the number of deaths among mental health patients rose from 1412 in 2012-13 to 1713 in 2014-15. The data, released by NHS England under the Freedom of Information Act, also showed that the number of those people committing suicide or trying to do so rose by 26% to 751 in 2014-15, from 595 in 2012-13.

The total number of “serious incidents” (unexpected or avoidable deaths, serious harm, injury, or abuse) recorded across England’s 58 mental health trusts rose by a third in the same period, from 6074 in 2012-13 to 8139 in 2014-15. In one specific case identified, North East London NHS Foundation Trust recorded a total of 633 serious incidents last year.

The figures include inpatients with serious mental health problems and people being cared for while living at home.

Lamb, who served as care minister under the coalition government between 2012 and 2015, likened the findings to the Mid Staffordshire scandal, in which patients were found to have died because of poor care, and urged NHS England and the government to investigate. He said, “Significant numbers of unexpected deaths at the Mid Staffs NHS trust caused an outcry, and these figures should cause the same, because they show a dramatic increase in the number of people losing their lives.

“NHS England and the government should set up an investigation into the causes of this [rise], as these figures involve tragedies for families around the country, and the human impact is intense.”

Luciana Berger, Labour’s shadow minister for mental health, also urged the government to act. She said, “This drastic increase in the number of people losing their lives in NHS care is utterly appalling and tragic for all families involved. It must act as a serious wake-up call for ministers.”

Berger added, “At a time of rising demand the government has presided over service cuts and staff shortages, with devastating consequences. It’s high time the government accepted their failings on mental health and translated their empty rhetoric into the action that is desperately needed.”

Simon Wessely, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, told the Guardian newspaper that the increase in serious incidents may be due to more regular reporting rather than a surge in the actual number of incidents occurring.1

An NHS England spokesperson said, “Reporting of incidents is intentionally up right across the NHS, including mental health, as part of our national effort to encourage transparency and a culture of learning.

“That’s the lesson from the airlines: openness is a precondition for safety and improvement. That’s as true for mental health services as it is for maternity care or surgical operations.”


Cite this as: BMJ 2016;352:i518


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