Tory NHS underfunding directly implicated for deaths of at least 271 vulnerable mental health patients


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Following a Guardian investigation, which found that 271 vulnerable patients died between 2012 and 2017 after 706 failings by health bodies, Shadow Minister for Mental Health, Barbara Keeley, has called for a Government investigation.  

Theresa May pledged to transform the way mental health problems are handled right across society. If the prime minister is to be taken at her word then her government must investigate without delay…

Those are the words of Shadow Minister for Mental Health, Barbara Keeley. Her comments come on the back of an investigation that revealed that between 2012 and 2017, Coroners were so alarmed at poor mental health care that they issued 136 warnings to NHS bodies. 

Causes of these deaths were various, including poor record keeping, a lack of adherence to protocols and policies, delays in treatment, staff shortages, insufficient funding and insufficient resources, and a lack of appropriate care. 

Just as the demise of the homeless who dot Britain’s streets is directly linked to this Tory Government’s appalling housing and Universal Credit policies; just as the deaths of people in their own homes is due to this Government’s inability to deal with bad weather; just as the suicides of vulnerable people are due to means and ability testing-outsourcing and PIP adjustments, the blood of the 271 is also on the Conservative’s hands.

Cuts to NHS funding and a Secretary of State hell-bent on denigrating, insulting and destroying the morale of nurses nationwide, as well as stemming the flow of new nurses into the profession by stopping bursaries for postgraduate students, has led to vast staff shortages in the NHS. 

Specifically in mental health, there are 6,000 fewer mental health nurses in the UK now than in 2010. 

The mental health crisis in this country is nothing revelatory. Increasing numbers of mental health practitioners have been turning away from public work since at least 2012. This is due in no small part to the failing state of the NHS structure, brought on by the Tory’s mismanagement and abject negligence. 

The UK Council for Psychotherapy found, in a report from 2012, that 56% of therapists deemed NHS waiting times too long and 31% believed they could provide a better quality of care in the private sector; albeit, at a cost that most vulnerable people would find impossible to satisfy. 

The report into the deaths in mental health has arrived during the premiership of a Prime Minister who has made tackling mental health issues a “priority“. 

The issue is not just one of shoddy Government policy, negligence and mismanagement. More insidious and incremental is this Government’s railroad of privatisation through mental health.

Chief among the causes of the 271 avoidable mental health patient deaths was the fact of poor communication between agencies and staff. In 2010, Allyson Pollock wrote in the British Medical Journal of the dangers of “A whole swathe of NHS mental health services [being] closed or transferred to the for profit private sector from the NHS”.

The use of private agencies, contractors and nursing recruiters has led to a disjointed, chaotic system that is utterly inefficient. This is in addition to a reliance on mental health charities to provide care that should be the function of the State.

At the same time, care provision within the NHS is found wanting. Vulnerable recipients of care are kicked from pillar to post, their treatment is delayed and often insufficient.

By far the greatest cause of death among the 271 individuals was suicide, which is rising after years of decline. Now, 4,477 people kill themselves per year. In 75% of cases, vulnerable individuals aren’t getting the care they need. 

In addition to inadequate care provided by an NHS starved of funding and asphyxiated by confusion and organisational dereliction, it might not be too much of a stretch to think that this stark rise is due also to the society created by the Tories. That is, one of atomisation, the destruction of community, the demonisation of vulnerability and the moralistic, corporate denigration of those who need support. 

In the light of these damning numbers, Barbara Keeley said,

Despite Tory claims to have made mental health an equal priority to physical health, this is substantial evidence that some of the most vulnerable people in the country have been left without vital mental healthcare and the concerns of their relatives have been ignored, with fatal consequences.

One thing is for sure, lives are on the line. Mental health provision within the NHS is in need of funding and a Government capable of organising it so that those suffering from mental illness receive the care that they need, and as soon as they need it.

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