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BBC reveals whether surge in deaths in mental health units was due to Covid

Almost twice as many people died during the first 12 months of the pandemic while receiving treatment in mental health wards in England compared to usual figures, BBC has reported.

Some 490 people died in England between March 2020 and March 2021 while detained under the Mental Health Act, the broadcaster reported on Saturday, citing data from the latest report by the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

According to BBC, the average annual death toll among psychiatric ward patients between 2012 and 2019 amounted to 273 people, which means the figure released by the CQC was almost twice as high. The care services regulator also said that only 166 of those deaths were caused by Covid-19, while another 324 patients died because of “non-Covid” reasons.

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In one such case brought up by the broadcaster, a patient at a secure psychiatric unit in Greater Manchester identified as Charlie Millers, 17, tried to commit suicide three times just hours before taking his life in his fourth and final attempt.

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The incident came as the unit’s senior nurse was doing double shifts due to understaffing. A confidential Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust report, seen by the BBC, cleared the unit of any wrongdoing, and said the nurse’s double shifts had not impaired her judgement.

Former UK health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, blamed staff shortages for putting every NHS patient’s safety at risk; not just in mental health wards but in “every part of the NHS.” He also criticised compulsory inpatient treatment in cases of mental health issues, which he said was too prevalent under the existing rules.

“We still put far too many people into secure accommodation, [when] you haven’t committed any crime, just because it’s the only option left,” he told BBC News.

The UK Department of Health and Social Care said it would be investing £2.3 billion ($3.09 billion) a year by 2023/24 to “transform mental health care” as well as introducing plans to reform the Mental Health Act “shortly” to ensure every relevant patient is treated with respect. The department also said that “record numbers of doctors and nurses” were working in the NHS already and 50,000 more nurses would be hired by the end of this parliament’s tenure.

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