Nearly 2,000 mental health inpatients in England were readmitted within a week of being discharged, according to new data
“With record waiting lists and mental health beds in short supply, it is alarming that many patients are being discharged only to be readmitted within days. Every patient expects to receive full and appropriate mental health support, so it is concerning that in many cases patients are being discharged prematurely. Rosena Allin-Khan, Labour MP
Thousands of patients are being readmitted to NHS mental health units in England within a month of being discharged, new freedom of information data shows.
Last year, according to figures obtained by Labour MP Rosena Allin-Khan, nearly 5,000 people (both children and adults) were readmitted to an in-patient mental health facility within a month of leaving.
Describing the data as “alarming,” Allin-Khan said that it showed too many patients were not receiving the help they needed to recover.
The figures reveal that 3,381 patients were readmitted within 30 days of their discharge by 35 of the 54 mental trusts in England during 2022-23. Extrapolating those figures to all 54 trusts suggested an estimated 4,927 people were readmitted within a month, Allin-Khan said.
In the same year, 1,972 people were readmitted by 36 trusts within a week of discharge – something NHS mental health services accept should never happen. Extrapolation of those figures to the 54 care providers suggests that an estimated 2,794 people returned as an inpatient within seven days.
Allin-Khan said: “With record waiting lists and mental health beds in short supply, it is alarming that many patients are being discharged only to be readmitted within days. Every patient expects to receive full and appropriate mental health support, so it is concerning that in many cases patients are being discharged prematurely.
“Being discharged too soon can have a disastrous impact, stunting progress towards a full recovery, ultimately causing further damage to a patient’s mental health.”
The trust with the highest number of 30-day readmissions was Mersey Care, with 321, followed by the East London (298) and Sussex Partnership (278) trusts. The highest number of seven-day readmissions were at Barnet, Enfield and Haringey (191), Lancashire and South Cumbria (185) and East London (159).
Marjorie Wallace, the chief executive of the mental health charity Sane, told the Guardian she was shocked by the figures. Too many readmissions occurred because vulnerable patients received inadequate help from community-based mental health teams after their discharge, she said. This could lead to some patients killing themselves, Wallace added.
“Recent reports of the number of patients who, after discharge, experience ‘unexpected’ deaths are becoming a cause of concern,” Wallace said. “The highest risk of suicide can be within the first 48 hours following discharge, yet we still know patients who are left to go home alone to a flat or unsupported accommodation with nowhere to turn for help.”
Wallace said that patients need the support of mental health workers who can visit after a discharge, but patients who had contacted Sane said this doesn’t happen: “The team may take days to arrive and are sometimes too late.”
The figures do show, however, that both seven- and 30-day readmissions are declining. Confirmed seven-day readmissions dropped from 2,336 in 2017-18 and confirmed 30-day readmissions dropped from 4,338 over the same period. Andy Bell, the chief executive of the Centre for Mental Health, said he welcomed the reduction, adding: “It’s worrying that so many people are still needing to go back to hospital within seven days or a month of leaving. While the numbers are falling, going back to hospital so soon after being discharged can be a distressing experience for anyone to go through.”
An NHS England spokesperson told the Guardian: “It is misleading to scale up data in this way without full responses. NHS mental health teams work to discharge patients at the appropriate time, and under the NHS long-term plan we are increasing funding for mental health services by £2.3bn a year.”
These new figures demonstrate just how overstretched NHS mental health services are. It seems likely that one of the reasons so many patients are being readmitted is that they were discharged too early, in order to free up space for other patients. If these discharged patients were supported effectively in the community, it might be possible to avoid readmission, but as Marjorie Wallace points out, this simply isn’t happening. A system in which patients are repeatedly readmitted is both detrimental to the patients and deeply inefficient for the NHS. Investment in community services is required as a matter of urgency.