Patients spend 'too long in secure mental health units'

depressed man
Image caption Prisoners with severe mental health problems can end up spending two years in a secure unit

Patients are spending too long in mental health secure units because of a lack of community services for them to move on to, says a report.

The Centre for Mental Health says patients spend two years on average in a secure unit, costing £200,000 per patient per year.

This is damaging for them and for those waiting for a bed, it warns.

The government this week said £5m would be spent helping offenders with mental health problems stay away from prison.

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said the money would go to creating 100 "diversion sites".

These are used to identify the mental health needs of offenders at an early stage and help keep them out of prison and secure units.

That announcement has been welcomed by the Centre for Mental Health.

Spending sums

It says that spending on secure services more than doubled between 2002 and 2010 and now accounts for nearly a fifth of all adult mental health expenditure.

Professor Sean Duggan, chief executive of the Centre for Mental Health, said that secure mental health services had a vital role to play in rehabilitating offenders with severe mental health problems.

"But the current shape of secure services is top-heavy, with too little provision of step-down and community care for those who no longer need to be in secure beds. As a result prisoners who are acutely unwell can't be transferred because beds are blocked."

However, he was unable to provide exact figures for how many patients were spending too long in secure units.

But he added: "The current NHS reforms are an opportunity to start to reshape and rebalance secure services. The way services are commissioned today fills up medium secure beds and makes it hard to expand alternative services.

"We need to ensure the new Commissioning Board and GP consortia work together from day one to get better value from secure services and most importantly to achieve better outcomes for the people who use them."

Mr Lansley said the government was trying to improve services as illustrated by the investment in the diversion sites.

"We need to ensure that the right treatment is available. We know early intervention and prevention is essential and that more needs to be done to divert offenders with mental health problems away from prison and into community-based health treatment."

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