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NHS figures reveal thousands went missing from mental health inpatient settings in past 12 months

Mental health charity SANE blames ‘relentless cuts’ for creating appalling conditions on wards

Mental health charity SANE blames ‘relentless cuts’ for creating appalling conditions on wards

3,462 people who had been sectioned went absent without leave from treatment centres between April 2018 and March 2019
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More than 3,400 patients went missing from mental health hospitals in England last year.

NHS figures show 3,462 people who had been sectioned under the Mental Health Act 1983 went AWOL (absent without leave) from treatment centres between April 2018 and March 2019.

Mental health charity SANE said it was increasingly concerned at the number of patients going missing from facilities, and blamed years of ‘relentless cuts’ for creating appalling conditions on wards.

The figures are a 4.4% increase on the previous year, when 3,316 incidents were recorded.

'Absences among sectioned patients could lead to an increased risk of suicide'

A patient is defined as AWOL if they leave the facility they are detained in without permission or fail to return after being allowed out on temporary leave.

SANE chief executive Marjorie Wallace said absences among sectioned patients could lead to an increased risk of suicide.

‘We need urgent action to prevent patients going absent or we risk an increase in suicides among this group.’

The Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust had the worst record for missing patients, with 625 incidents in 2018-19 alone.

Failure to treat people with dignity and respect

Charity Mind’s specialist policy adviser, Alison Cobb, said the Mental Health Act is used in a way that fails to treat people with dignity and respect.

‘Hospital wards can be stark and inhospitable, and when people are sectioned, they are sometimes subject to unnecessary restrictions and practices, such as physical restraint, seclusion or forced medication,’ she said.

‘Mental health services have a responsibility to ensure the safety of those in their care and any failings, including people absconding, should be thoroughly investigated.’

An NHS spokesman said an extra £2.3 billion was being invested in mental health services as part of the NHS Long Term Plan.

The money will go towards making sure inpatient facilities are properly resourced, as well as early interventions for patients to prevent problems escalating, he said.

‘The government is rightly reviewing the Mental Health Act to protect some of the most vulnerable people in our society.’

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