Almost 38,000 life-saving follow-up appointments with mental health patients were missed when they were most at risk of suicide, the Royal College of Psychiatrists said.
The medical profession has called for ‘urgent action’ to ensure more people are seen for follow-ups within 72 hours of being discharged from hospital care, to prevent them from falling ‘through the cracks’ while they are so vulnerable”.
The risk of suicide is highest on the second and third day after leaving a mental health service, but 37,999 follow-up appointments with patients were not made within this time in England between April 2020 and May 2022 .
According to NHS data, of the 160,430 cases where patients were eligible for follow-up care within 72 hours of discharge from acute adult mental health care, only three-quarters (76%) took place during of this period.
A target of at least 80% follow-up within this timeframe was introduced in 2019-20, but this target was never met.
The latest data from the Office for National Statistics indicates that 4,912 suicides were recorded in England in 2020, with the suicide rate for men at 15.3 per 100,000 and the rate for women at 4.9.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists is calling for more qualified specialists to check people perceived to be at risk, which they say requires more staff and funding.
The president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Dr Adrian James, said: “We simply cannot afford to let people slip through the cracks at a time when they are so vulnerable. It is essential that our mental health services are properly staffed and funded to provide appropriate aftercare and help prevent suicides.
“Staff are working as hard as they can to provide high quality care, but it’s clear that current resources are not enough to achieve these goals. We need urgent action to tackle the workforce crisis and meet the suicide prevention targets set out in the NHS long-term plan.
Follow-up appointments should be face-to-face with specialist staff, either at the patient’s home or in a health care facility.
An NHS spokesperson said: ‘NHS mental health services are treating more people than ever before, whether for talk therapy, eating disorders or people with mental illness. severe who receive care in the community.
“The NHS has set an ambitious target for follow-up appointments of 72 hours, which was previously seven days – this is in addition to a range of support in place, including 24/7 crisis telephone lines / 7 across the country – and so anyone struggling with their mental health should come forward and get the support they need.
In the UK and Ireland, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or by email at [email protected] or [email protected] In the United States, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the Lifeline crisis helpline is 13 11 14. Other international helplines are available at www.befrienders.org.