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Safety issues within inpatient mental health wards

Published 7 October 2015

Safety of patients

Verity Murricane is a member of Verita’s Mental Health Advisory Group and advises on the safety of patients.

Verita’s work on assuring the safety of patients in an inpatient mental health facility got me thinking about my own experiences.

According to a recent survey of a sample of 45 people’s experiences of inpatient mental health wards in England, 67% of mental health service users felt unsafe during their last admission.

Being mentally unwell is often about not feeling safe. Contact with other people can contribute to this. So going on to a ward with your own problems and coming across lots of other people and theirs can from my experience, at times, end up making things worse.

Reflecting on the survey’s data, as well as my own experiences of mental health services, I think that it would be a mistake to ignore this survey’s message as a statistical fluke.
So why is a safe environment sometimes not achieved on inpatient wards? And how can one be achieved?

For me, two answers to this first question jump out.

First, of course, there’s the squeeze on resources. Wards sometimes operate at higher than recommended occupancy rates and this creates an overcrowded ward of often very ill, unstable people. This is not an environment that is conducive to a swift recovery.
There is also an awareness amongst both staff and service users that there are other, equally ill people, also needing inpatient beds and this can lead to a constant pressure to get people well, or well enough, to leave. This haste can reduce the chances of a successful recovery as well as the time to build a good, trusting relationship between a service user and a member of staff.

The staff on the best inpatient wards who I came in to contact with always understood that what service users need is to feel safe inside the ward and inside their heads. With this sense of safety, service users are more equipped to face the inevitable challenges of everyday life rather than avoid them. Of course, creating safe wards takes skill, time and courage but this is a gold standard that is worth working towards.

If you would like to learn more about Safety of Patients then please contact our Ed Marsden on 020 7494 5670 or [email protected].

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