Thousands of mental health patients ‘left to cope alone’ after leaving hospital, new figures show

Katie Forster
A specialist mental health hospital in London: Flickr/Peter Gasston

Mental health patients are twice as likely to attempt suicide if they do not receive a follow-up visit or phone call within a week of leaving hospital – but one in ten have to wait longer than this, new figures have shown.

At least 11,000 people were “left to cope alone” last year when they were discharged from hospital after suffering a crisis, according to mental health charity Mind.

The charity, which obtained the data from responses to freedom of information requests by 54 of England’s 56 mental health trusts, said all patients should be contacted after two days.

“Thousands of people with mental health problems in England and Wales are not getting the appropriate follow-up when they are first discharged from hospital. This is not good enough,” said Sophie Corlett, Mind’s director of external relations.

“If you don’t get the right care after you leave, if you’re left to cope alone, you can end up in a revolving door going straight back into hospital or be at risk of taking your own life.”

A survey of more than 850 patients conducted by the charity also found that those who were not followed up within a week, if at all, were more than twice as likely to attempt suicide than those who had a swift follow-up – at 16 per cent compared with 7 per cent.

Patients who did not receive a face-to-face visit or phone call were also a third more likely to harm themselves and more than twice as likely to have to return to A&E, according to the survey.

National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) guidelines state all patients should be followed up within seven days, or 48 hours if deemed a suicide risk.

Imani, 36, who has borderline personality disorder and complex post-traumatic stress disorder, has been voluntarily admitted to hospital three times when she was at high risk of taking her own life.

Of her experience leaving hospital, she said: “I remember coming out and thinking I wanted to go back in again.

“It’s like you come out and you’re a rabbit in the headlights – you’re so vulnerable. Going back out again into the big wide world, with freedom and among other people, it can be overwhelming when you feel you’ve just had a near-death experience,” she said.

“I don’t remember being in contact with the hospital once I’d come out – no phone call, no visit – and I needed to see someone. The professional support was just not what I expected given what I’ve been through. My husband had to take time off work and had to be there to keep me safe.”

MPs on the Health Select Committee last month expressed disappointment that the Government had not acted on a previous recommendation calling for all patients discharged from inpatient care to receive follow-up checks within three days.

Mind has called for Nice to update its guidance so every person leaving hospital after a mental health crisis receives a follow-up call or visit within 48 hours.

“It is a tragedy that so many people so very recently leaving the care of hospital are losing their lives,” said Ms Corlett.

“Whether you’ve been in hospital for days or for months, when you come out you need the right care and support to help you stay well. A vital part of this is having someone make early contact with you to make sure you’re OK and getting the ongoing support you need.

“Seven days is simply too long to wait when someone’s recovery is still at risk. We need to see a reduction of the follow-up time to 48 hours now.”