The case of a mentally ill man who attempted suicide after being discharged from hospital to a park bench has prompted mental health solicitors to call on lawyers to sue local authorities that fail to provide adequate healthcare for some of society’s most vulnerable members.
The man, who was discharged from a hospital run by Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust, is one of many victims of the growing crisis in funding social services care, mental health lawyers have warned. Other effects of local authority budget cuts include bed-blocking in hospitals, mentally unwell patients seeking treatment in A&E departments, and rehabilitation wards closing because of lack of funding.
Richard Charlton, chair of the Mental Health Lawyers Association (MHLA), said he had visited a mental health ward where 15 of the 18 patients were fit for discharge, but could not leave because social services was unable to fund their aftercare. He said: ‘That is 15 beds blocked, and 15 acutely unwell people still in the community who can’t be admitted to hospital.’
Charlton called on MHLA members to take local authorities to court to account for their failings.
Susan Thompson, chair of the Law Society’s mental health and disability committee, said that she expected the problem of delayed discharges from mental health wards to get worse as council budgets are squeezed further.
A spokesman for Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust said that patient safety and the safe management of risk were the trust’s ‘top priority’, regardless of the challenging financial environment.