Mental health patients stranded in A&E due to ‘very low bed numbers’

Some patients are waiting days to be transferred to the appropriate mental health care

By Josh Mellor, Local Democracy Reporter

Stock image (credit: Pixabay)

“Very low bed numbers” at the trust that offers mental health care across North East London means many patients suffering from an acute mental health crisis are being stranded in unsuitable A&E wards.

This week, a senior director at North East London Foundation Trust (NELFT), responsible for mental health services in Waltham Forest and four other boroughs, admitted the trust struggles to keep up with the number of patients waiting to be transferred from A&E.

Patients in an acute crisis are often admitted to A&E before being transferred to the appropriate service and, in January this year, more than 350 people in need of urgent mental health care arrived at just two A&Es in North East London.

However, a lack of beds at NELFT services to receive them means some are spending over a day or even longer waiting in A&E. At King George Hospital in Redbridge and Queen’s Hospital in Romford, the average wait was more than 20 hours.

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Executive director of integrated care at NELFT Brid Johnson said a key cause of the problem was the trust’s “very low bed numbers”, although she did not set out any plans to increase the number of beds available.

To deal with mental health patients waiting in A&E departments, NELFT staff are now having morning meetings where they review a list of every patient waiting at local hospitals.

She added that NELFT also needs to “strengthen” its out-of-hospital care services that “manage people on a day-to-day basis”, saying: “The most important thing to try to do is keep people away from A&E in the first place, to bring them straight to one of our crisis hubs or, if they’re known to us, to named worker.”

However, she said many people arriving at A&E departments are not known to mental health services already.

Another key issue for NELFT’s mental health services is retaining staff, since almost one in four staff at the trust report feeling “burnt out”, according to a recent staff survey. Brid said: “The morale issue is a key area[…] linked to morale is the size of caseloads and a lack of staffing.”

NELFT provides community and mental health services for people living in the London boroughs of Barking & Dagenham, Barnet, Havering, Redbridge and Waltham Forest.

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