A leading psychiatrist has spoken out about the state of Mental Health Services in England, the BBC reports. Dr Martin Baggaley is the medical director of the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust spoke out following an investigation by BBC News and Community Care magazine, which revealed that more than 1500 mental health beds have closed over recent years.

The BBC sent Freedom of Information requests to 53 of England’s 58 mental health trusts and 46 trusts replied. The figures show that a minimum of 1,711 mental health beds have been closed since April 2011, including 277 between April and August 2013. Three quarters of the bed closures were in acute adult wards, older people’s wards and psychiatric intensive care units. On the morning Dr Baggaley spoke to the BBC, he said a severely distressed patient had been transferred from Croydon to Hertfordshire as there were no beds in London. This cannot be seen as acceptable and it makes for a highly pressurised environment for staff and patients alike. Dr Baggaley went on to say that the current system is inefficient and unsafe.

Although there is a preference to treat people in the community, if these patients deteriorate, they need to be hospitalised; however, often they can’t as there are no beds available. As a result these patients end up in police cells, which not only is waste of police resources it is not the right environment for mentally ill people. They do not need to be placed in handcuffs and a custody cell. Often these people have committed no crime and the police are used as the agency of last resort when ideally other caring services might have prevented the problems escalating in the first place. Furthermore, the police are not qualified to deal with the mentally ill.

The Police and Crime Commissioner for Staffordshire commented that in 2012 the force attended 15,000 incidents and arrested 169 people solely for the purpose of mental health assessments. The Commissioner does realise that if NHS teams are to take a more active role in the treatment of the mentally ill, they need to be funded accordingly.

The BBC further reported the sad story of Lucy Bowden who ended up in the back of a police van due to a lack of beds after attending an Accident & Emergency Unit seeking help. Lucy, who self harms, attended A&E, after an episode, but instead of being admitted (as there were no beds available) she was left wandering around the grounds of the hospital. Eventually the police were called and she had to be sectioned, which in turn forced the local psychiatric hospital to provide her with care.

It is about finding a balance between ensuring that there are beds available when needed and also being able to help patients receive treatment in the community or in their own homes.