Mental health patients are most at risk of suicide in the 72-hour period following discharge, yet only three-quarters are receiving follow-up appointments during this time
“We simply can’t afford to let people fall through the cracks at a time when they are so vulnerable. It’s vital that our mental health services are properly staffed and funded to offer proper follow-up care and help prevent suicides." Dr Adrian James, president, Royal College of Psychiatrists
Nearly 38,000 vital follow-up appointments with mental health patients were missed in the vital 72-hour window after discharge, the Royal College of Psychiatrists has said.
The risk of suicide is highest on the on the second and third days after leaving a mental health ward, but figures for England show that between April 2020 and May 2022, 37,999 follow-up appointments were not made within this timeframe.
NHS data reveals that of the 160,430 occasions when patients were eligible for follow-up care within 72 hours after discharge, only three-quarters (76%) took place within that period. Follow-up appointments should take place face-to-face with specialist staff, either at the patient’s home or at a care setting.
The College has called for “urgent action” to make sure that more people are seen for follow-ups within 72 hours of their discharge from inpatient care. It is also calling for more trained specialists to check on those perceived to be at risk, which they say requires more staffing and funding.
A target of at least 80% of people being followed up within this timeframe was introduced in 2019-20, but this has never been achieved.
The president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Dr Adrian James, said: “We simply can’t afford to let people fall through the cracks at a time when they are so vulnerable. It’s vital that our mental health services are properly staffed and funded to offer proper follow-up care and help prevent suicides.
“Staff are working as hard as they can to provide high-quality care, but it’s clear that current resources are not enough to meet these targets. We need urgent action to tackle the workforce crisis and achieve the suicide prevention goals set out in the NHS long-term plan.”
Data from the Office for National Statistics shows that, in 2020, 4,912 suicides were registered in England, with the male suicide rate at 15.3 per 100,000 and the rate among women at 4.9.
An NHS spokesperson said: “The NHS set an ambitious target for 72-hour follow-up appointments, which was previously seven days – this is in addition to a range of support in place, including 24/7 crisis telephone lines across the country – and so anyone struggling with their mental health should come forward and get the support they need.”
It’s deeply concerning to see that one in four mental health patients are not being given a follow-up appointment during the vital 72-hour period after discharge. The Royal College of Psychiatrists is right to call for better resourcing and staffing of mental health services. There is a real risk that many of the important mental health targets set out in the NHS long-term plan will be missed if action isn’t taken.