Watchdog warns unfilled jobs will damage care for mentally ill
STANDARDS in the care of mental health patients will fall unless jobs in the sector are filled, a watchdog has claimed.
The Mental Health Commission said it was disappointed less than a third of 414 posts were appointed by the end of last year, delaying further recruitment this year.
In a scathing report, the inspector of mental health services also revealed services were stagnant, and possibly slipped backwards, in 2012 as nursing staff numbers dwindled and problems with the quality and quantity of staff arose.
Dr Patrick Devitt highlighted insufficient attention to governance, inadequate understanding of the values underpinning mental health legislation and policy, and a weak conceptual grasp of individual care planning.
"Overall compliance with regulations, rules and codes of practice in 2012 can only be regarded as fair with no significant improvement on previous years," he said.
"We were dismayed to discover several examples of inadequate and absent individual care plans, of non-compliance with aspects of the mental health act with respect to involuntary admission and the requirement of Section 60 with respect to medicating without consent."
Elsewhere, health and social care professionals recruited from national panels at junior level sometimes had little interest in mental health, he said, while psychiatrists claimed they could not rely on hospital doctors because of a "brain drain".
"Training opportunities are also limited and during some of our inspections we were shocked by the lack of understanding of basic aspects of mental health legislative requirements," the inspector report added.
The commission's annual report stated that 63 approved centres with 2,876 beds were examined over 2012, with nine units ordered to improve standards.
During the year there were 2,141 involuntary detentions and 357 children admitted, with a quarter of them held in adult centres.
There were 19 sudden or unexplained deaths in care and more than 50 involving patients of community mental health services.
The commission raised concerns that Electro Convulsive Therapy (ECT) continued to be administered in 7.5pc of cases where the patient was unwilling or unable to give consent.
Chairman John Saunders also claimed that despite the positive steps to have less than 400 beds left in outdated and unsuitable buildings, services were at risk of deteriorating due to shortages.
"This report shows clearly that while many service providers have responded well to conditions that were attached to their operation in recent years, there has been a slippage in compliance with some legal requirements," he said.
Junior health minister Kathleen Lynch said additional funding and posts were given to the sector in recent Budgets, but admitted she was disappointed with the pace of change towards a modern, patient-centred, recovery orientated mental health service.
"High standards in facilities and in in-patient care must be the norm without exception," she added.
"I want to see mental health services that are recovery oriented and that put service users, their families and carers at the centre."