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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

Trainee psychiatrist survey reveals mental health beds crisis

Embargoed until 02 June 2014

Cuts to mental health services mean that patients are being sent home in the absence of a bed – or being sectioned to secure one, a survey by the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Psychiatric Trainees' Committee (PTC), has revealed.


The survey asked junior doctors working in psychiatry in the UK to talk about their experiences of working in mental health over the last six months.


Some 3,504 trainees were contacted across the UK. Of the 576 trainees that responded: 70% said they had experienced difficulty finding an appropriate bed for a patient at least once. In child and adolescent services (CAMHS) that figure was 83%.


  • 80% had sent a patient outside the local area for a bed, 15% doing this more than monthly.
  • 37% had sent a patient at least 100 miles outside their local area. Of those working in CAMHS, 22% had been forced to send a child 200 miles away from their families.
  • 37% said a colleague’s decision to detain a patient under the Mental Health Act had been influenced by the fact that doing so might make the provision of a bed more likely, and 18% said their own decisions had been influenced in such a way.
  • 24% reported that a bed manager had told them that unless their patient had been sectioned they would not get a bed.
  • 20% have admitted a patient to a bed belonging to a patient who has been sent home on a period of trial leave.
  • Three out of ten had seen a patient admitted to a ward without a bed – presumably leaving them to camp on a sofa in a communal room.
  • 28% have sent a critically unwell patient home because no bed could be found.

The survey responses, which indicate that demand for beds outstrips supply, build on findings by BBC news and Community Care magazine in a joint investigation this month. Data obtained from 30 of England’s 48 mental health trusts showed that overall the number of patients sent out of area has more than doubled between 2011-12 and 2013-14.


Dr Alex Langford, a trainee psychiatrist, said: “This survey investigated for the first time the extent of several practices which occur as a result of the bed crisis.


“These practices signify serious risk to patients due to a crippling lack of resources.  The fact that psychiatrists are having to consider sectioning patients to secure something as basic as a bed is a huge warning sign of extreme under provision. These doctors are using the only option they have left to ensure very unwell people get the care they desperately need.


“The survey shows just how pervasively dangerous the disparity between resourcing in mental health and other medical specialities is.”


Dr Howard Ryland, chair of the PTC said: “Psychiatry is a highly rewarding profession, but the difficulties highlighted by this survey demonstrate how challenging it can be to work in mental health services currently. If these serious shortcomings are not immediately addressed, it will become increasingly difficult to recruit and retain the dedicated psychiatrists our patients need.”


Professor Sue Bailey, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists said: “This survey provides further evidence that mental health services are approaching a tipping point. Continued cuts to services can only result in further distress and discomfort for patients, many of whom are young, vulnerable, some of whom are forced to receive care far from home. This situation is simply not acceptable.”

For further information, please contact:
Sarah Nevins
Press & Social Media Officer
Telephone: 020 3701 2543
Claire McLoughlin
Media & Communications Manager 
Telephone: 020 3701 2544
Out of hours contact number: 07860 755896


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