People in desperate need of mental health care in Lancashire are subjected to “long and distressing” waiting times due to a “significant increase in demand”.
The spike in demand for urgent mental health services in the area since 2018 has led to people waiting too long for admission to hospital and has also had an impact on the ambulance service and police, according to an investigation carried out by the Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust.
The review of the urgent mental health pathway, commissioned by the Healthier Lancashire and South Cumbria Integrated Care System, found many mentally ill people had to attend emergency departments due to crisis teams being unresponsive and a lack of support from the emergency services.
Health chiefs apologised and said the report made for “difficult reading” as it exposed a raft of shortcomings in the way mental health services are delivered.
Patients “don’t always receive compassion, respect or a quick response from emergency department staff”, the report found.
It also said some patients who went to A&E or to a mental health decision unit were left waiting “on a trolley in the corridor for 10 hours” or overnight for an assessment.
“Emergency department security staff are obtrusive and inappropriate at times,” the report added.
It also found there was a lack of support available for young people suffering from mental health problems.
Dr Amanda Doyle OBE, GP and chief officer for the Healthier Lancashire and South Cumbria Integrated Care System, said the report painted “a clear picture of where we have gone wrong and what we need to do to improve”.
Links between deprivation and poor mental health were looked at as part of the investigation.
Blackpool, one of the most deprived local authorities in the country, has the highest percentage of registered patients suffering from non-psychotic conditions such as depression and anxiety in the whole of Lancashire.
Some 13.5 per cent of patients registered under Blackpool Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) suffer from mental health problems.
The resort also ranks highest for patients suffering from psychotic illnesses, at 1.44 per cent.
Fylde and Wyre had the highest percentage of patients suffering from so-called “organic” conditions, such as dementia, at 1.2 per cent.
All Lancashire CCGs ranked among the top 25 per cent for patients suffering from either non-psychotic, psychotic, or organic conditions. However, just Blackpool and Fylde and Wyre CCGs ranked among the top 25 per cent in all three categories.
According to the report, the North West Ambulance Service receives an average of 37 calls per day due to mental health issues – 1 per cent of the total volume – with demand rising towards the end of the week.
Most calls related to suicidal thoughts or overdoses.
Blackpool generates the highest demand on the ambulance service, in line with the “significant prevalence” of mental health issues in the town.
The investigation also raised concerns about a lack of compassion and respect for mentally ill people.
It read: “Sectioning has been used as a threat by a range of professionals across the system including police.
“We can see that the police are stretched, and while their response can be helpful and supportive, a greater degree of compassion and understanding of what’s needed would be welcomed.”
Police were “not always respectful of the individual” and used “threats... in some instances”.
The report warned too many people were being picked up by the police because they were not getting the right help elsewhere.
It added: “ The system is criminalising people with mental health problems and that is wrong.”
Dr Doyle said: “We are grateful to the service users, members of staff and stakeholders who contributed to the review. Their open and honest input has helped to create a clear picture of where we have gone wrong, and what we need to do to improve.
“We have listened to this feedback and we understand people will want to see action as quickly as possible.
“One of the first steps we have taken is to be open and transparent about the findings of the report and outlining our commitment to take action as a partnership to improve services for the 1.7 million people across Lancashire and South Cumbria.”
Caroline Donovan, chief executive of Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We welcome this report and its recommendations even though it makes for very difficult reading for all of us involved in the delivery of mental health care.
“We are so sorry that our services have, in many instances, fallen way short of what we aspire to, and that our patients and families
“The vast majority of our staff are dedicated, professional and compassionate. They are the life blood of Lancashire Care Foundation Trust and we will work with them, listen to them and support them so that they can deliver our vision, ‘high quality care in the right place, at the right time, every time’.”
She said she was “personally committed” to the trust’s long-term goal of being “an outstanding (care) provider” but that it will take “time, effort and... extra investment” to achieve.
A statement on behalf of Lancashire Police and the North West Ambulance Service said: “We recognise the need to work collaboratively to improve the delivery of mental health services to the people of Lancashire. In order to support this improvement we agree to deliver improved mental health training to our frontline staff, in order that they may better understand patients with whom they come into contact, and the pathways available to improve their health through appropriate treatment options.”