Mental Health Cuts – The Grim Toll

New fears have been raised about the dangers of slashing mental health services in Cambridgeshire as a report reveals more than 400 people have been killed by psychiatric patients on hospital release. The report says psychiatric patients being cared for in the community have killed more than 400 people across England and Wales in the last eight years – an average of almost one a week.

It also highlights the shocking number of suicides among people with mental illness, revealing around 25 kill themselves every week, equating more than 1,300 a year.

The report’s findings are a reminder of the potential consequences of savage cuts to mental health services in Cambridgeshire, totalling around £3 million, in a bid to claw back a crippling deficit. When the extent of the cuts became apparent a year ago, a group of doctors wrote to the News to warn that suicides and violence could rise as a result.

The 27 consultant psychiatrists warned the cuts would “limit the delivery of a safe, satisfactory service and place the patient, carers and public at increased risk.” In a letter they said: “We are very concerned there will be serious untoward incidents as a result of the recent decisions. Existing services are already stretched. Any reduction in services puts further pressure on what is left. The proposed closures leave our service exposed and the risk of suicide or violence further increased if the measures are taken in such haste.”

There have been several violent attacks by psychiatric patients in Cambridgeshire, most recently the killing of Mandla Leya, 41, on Coldham’s Common, in Cambridge. Mandla was attacked by his friend Jason Warwick, 37, who had spent time in Fulbourn Hospital and the Norvic Clinic in Norwich, and had a history of mental illness.

At the time of the killing, in February, he was on conditional release under a hospital order, which allowed him to be treated in the community. He has since admitted manslaughter and is due to be sentenced this week.

Coun Geoffrey Heathcock, Lib Dem lead for health on Cambridgeshire County Council, warned that more innocent people would be killed as a result of the cuts, and said the report should act as a “wake-up call”. He said: “Unfortunately I am not surprised by the hundreds of people killed by mental health patients on release in the community, because we have seen how dangerous some individuals can be here in Cambridgeshire.

“And at a time when mental health services are being cut back – and they were never particularly well funded in the first place – I have to say I am very concerned that we are putting more people at risk. We are always being told that adequate provision will be made to treat patients in the community, but we know, sadly, that is not the case when the NHS is in such a financial pickle.

“I am yet to be convinced that the cuts which are being forced on us have anything to do with delivering the best and safest care for people in desperate need of help – they are designed to sort out the financial mess. That is completely the wrong priority, and I am afraid it will lead to more tragedies. Every time another person is attacked or killed as a result of insufficient or inappropriate care by mental health services, we are told mistakes were made and lessons will be learned.