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Suicidal and self-harming patients receive inadequate care due to overwhelmed A&E departments, doctors warn

A&E staff are unable to properly look after the most vulnerable mental health patients or treat them with compassion because emergency departments are so overwhelmed, top medics have warned.

An exclusive report shared with The Independent shows more than 40% of patients who needed emergency care due to self-harm or suicide attempts received no compassionate care while in A&E, according to their medical records.

The data, collated by the Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM), prompted a warning from top doctor Dr Adrian Boyle that mental health patients are spending far too long in A&E – where they are cared for by staff who are not specifically trained for their needs – before being moved to an appropriate ward.

Dr Boyle, who is president of the RCEM, said there had been some progress in improving care for a “historically disadvantaged” group, but added: “Patients with mental health problems are still spending too long in our emergency departments, with an average length of stay of nearly 10 hours and this has not really improved.

“An emergency department is frequently noisy and agitating, the lights never go off and cannot be described as an environment that promotes recovery.”

When a patient goes to A&E after a self-harm attempt, they should receive an assessment by a clinician into the type of self-harm, reasons for it, future plans or further suicidal thoughts.

The college said it indicates a “significant gap” in the NHS’ ability to provide holistic care for mental health patients with complex needs and warned “urgent” improvements are needed.

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Source: The Independent, 25 March 2024


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