Mental health nursing cuts slammed
A large drop in the number of mental health nurses and shortages in inpatient beds are "unacceptable" and a "false economy", the head of the nurses' union has said.
Dr Peter Carter, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said there are 3,300 fewer posts in mental health nursing, and 1,500 fewer beds, compared with 2010.
Last month Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg announced an injection of £120 million - £40 million this year and £80 million next year - to improve mental health services.
But Dr Carter urged the Government to take action "now" to mitigate the cuts, which had come at a time of "unprecedented demand" for services with one in four people estimated to experience a mental health problem in their lifetime.
He told the BBC: "It's strange and it's not a surprise to people that work in mental health that it's at the bottom of the chain, so to speak. And at times of crisis it is services like mental health, the elderly and learning disabilities that are first in line for the cuts.
"Mental health over the past few years has really suffered and the tragedy is this: In 1999 the National Service Framework for mental health came into being which put in place crisis resolution, early intervention, assertive outreach services, and most of these services have now been cut.
"So the very services that keep people well and keep people out of hospital have been cut. It's a false economy, because admitting people to hospital means they stay in longer and cost more.
"So economically it's bad, but also clinically and psychologically it's bad, because people have to wait until they are very ill before they get admitted - that can't be in anyone's interests.
"If you draw parallels with any physical illness, it's just simply common sense that the earlier you can intervene, the more chance you've got of ameliorating more severe problems down the line."
Dr Carter added that with a third of mental health nurses - specialist posts within the health service - aged over 50, there was a need to increase the number of training places.
And he said inpatient bed cuts had resulted in patients travelling "hundreds of miles" to seek treatment.
Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of the mental health charity Sane, said " ever more resources for mentally-ill people are being stealthily eroded, leaving thousands without access to specialist nurses".
She added: "With the decimation of psychiatric beds, they also have nowhere to go when in crisis or for recovery.
"These facts from the frontline show just how hollow are the pledges made by health ministers that mental illness should be treated on parity with physical illness."