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Alert over high demand for mental health beds in Northern Ireland

Statistics: Dr Gerry Lynch
Statistics: Dr Gerry Lynch
Ralph Hewitt

By Ralph Hewitt

A high bed occupancy rate for mental health services in Northern Ireland is putting extra strain on other vital services and is leading to concerns for patient safety, it has been warned.

Research carried out by the Royal College of Psychiatrists NI (RCPNI) has revealed a high occupancy rate coupled with a large reduction in bed numbers for mental health patients over the past 10 years.

Between 2009/10 and 2018/19 the total number of beds for all mental illness fell by 46.2%.

In Northern Ireland the bed occupancy rate for adult mental illness is 95.4%, while forensic psychiatry stands at 97.6%.

RCPNI recommends a maximum bed occupancy of 85% to allow wards to run smoothly and be able to cope with a sudden influx of patients.

The 2018/19 bed occupancy rate across all mental health illness services in Northern Ireland, which includes adult mental illness and all psychiatry services, is 89.7%.

According to RCPNI, the figures here suggest high occupancy could have an impact on quality of care, and increases the chances of patients being placed in beds outside their local trust.

Last week a Westminster committee report stated the health service in Northern Ireland was at risk from "deteriorating to the point of collapse" without long-term funding to support transformation.

RCPNI chair Dr Gerry Lynch said: "These statistics revealing lack of bed provision prove urgent investment in community-based mental health services is needed now for patients, families and staff.

"There is no doubt that the lack of beds is putting enormous pressure on front line services.

"This is why we've been calling for a parity of esteem between mental and physical health, which was referenced in the Westminster report out last week.

"We need significant investment in community-based services and equal access to care and treatment for all, this includes allowing patients to have a bed within their own health trust.

"Hospitals and other services are currently gearing up for winter pressures, but in mental health we have year-round pressures. This is a situation which needs addressed now."

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