More than 15,000 patients died in the care of mental health trusts in one year

Leaked NHS figures show that the patients died while in the care of community mental health teams

24th April 2024 about a 3 minute read
“The mounting pressure we’re seeing on community mental health services is unsustainable.” Saffron Cordery, deputy CEO of NHS Providers

More than 15,000 people are estimated to have died in a single year while being cared for by community mental health teams, according to figures leaked to the Independent newspaper.

The figures, which include any patient who was receiving care from a general community mental health team, relate to deaths between March 2022 and March 2023. They were collated by the NHS in an effort to reduce the number of deaths, but have not been made public.

The data suggests that the number of deaths would be far higher if patients receiving care from a crisis team or a perinatal mental health team, or early intervention care from a psychosis team, were included. The figures include deaths by suicide, cases in which an inquest could not reach a ruling of suicide, and those where a person has unexpectedly died, for instance from a heart attack, a stroke, or an accident.

Decades of neglect

The Independent reported that it had been approached by scores of patients and their families, including families who have lost someone to suicide, describing how both they and their loved ones have had to “beg” for treatment from stretched teams.

A senior NHS source told the newspaper that community care has suffered “decades of neglect” and accused health leaders of putting too much focus on inpatient hospital services. Community mental health services include care outside of hospitals, including treatment in clinics or at home.

The report shows that, across the country, an average of 127 patients per 10,000 died while under the care of all community mental health teams in 2022-23. According to the Independent, this is equivalent to more than 15,000 deaths among the 1.2m patients cared for by those teams.

The leaked report also reveals that:

  • At least 137 women died between 2022 and 2023 while under the care of services for pregnant women at one unnamed trust
  • Nearly one in 10 of the patients treated by a crisis service – designed to help those with the most severe mental health conditions – died while under that care
  • One unnamed mental health trust recorded more than 500 deaths in that year-long period

Vacancy levels reach 12%

Dozens of coroners raised the alarm last year over these deaths. Some drew attention to a national shortage of psychiatrists and other community mental health staff – a situation that has left “vulnerable” patients who are at risk to themselves with “very limited or no support”.

Vacancy levels in community mental health teams reached 12%, while the number of patients being treated increased by 11%.

The statistics are gathered by the NHS Benchmarking Network, which audits the performance of various national health services. The figures do not differentiate between avoidable deaths and expected deaths.

A spokesperson for the organisation told the Independent: “This particular data point is now being collected to support services to better address physical and mental health issues [in an effort] to reduce deaths. Premature mortality is a known issue for people with severe mental health disorders.”

Last month, the Care Quality Commission (CQC), which regulates health care in England, suggested a national review of community mental health care after raising concerns at the trust where Valdo Calocane was treated. He went on to stab three people in Nottingham last year.

CQC figures published last week show that more than a quarter of patients needing mental health support from community crisis teams didn’t receive the help they needed when they made contact.

Saffron Cordery, the deputy CEO of NHS Providers, an organisation that represents trusts, said: “The mounting pressure we’re seeing on community mental health services is unsustainable.”

FCC Insight

It is shocking to see that more than 15,000 people under the care of community mental health teams lost their lives in the space of one year – and perhaps even more shocking that we only know this because an internal report was leaked to a newspaper. Both the public and political leaders have the right to know where the NHS is failing so that we can take measures to improve it. It is more clear than ever that community mental health services are struggling due to a lack of resource and a shortage of staff.  This is a problem that needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.