NHS ‘failing patients with mental health problems’ says Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, who handles complaints that have not been resolved by the NHS in England and UK government departments, has published a report which claims that vulnerable patients with mental health conditions are being badly let down by services, causing them and their families needless suffering and distress.

The Ombudsman has also found that NHS mental healthcare staff ‘can lack the capacity, skills and training they need to do their job effectively’, and do not always have the support they need to learn from mistakes.

Following an analysis of over 200 mental health complaints upheld by the Ombudsman, the report highlights five common failings that are compromising patients’ safety and dignity:-

  • Failure to diagnose and/or treat the patient: One investigation found that a woman was treated with anti-psychotic drugs for a psychotic episode but had a life-threatening reaction to them. Her physical symptoms were dismissed and tragically she died.


  • Inappropriate hospital discharge and aftercare of the patient: In another case, a young man who had a complex history of mental health problems died from a drug overdose after being discharged from the local community mental health service, without a care plan in place.


  • Poor risk assessment and safety practices: The report reveals how a young person suffering from bipolar disorder and on the autism spectrum was physically assaulted by another patient in a residential home, causing them immense fear and distress. A risk assessment, which could have easily prevented the assault, was not carried out.


  • Not treating patients with dignity and/or infringing human rights: Another investigation found that a woman suffering from a psychotic episode was not given sanitary products while she was menstruating so she was forced to use a plastic cup. This was deeply humiliating for her and did not respect her dignity and well-being.


  • Poor communication with the patient and/or their family or carers: The report tells how a woman who had a history of bipolar disorder had her new born baby taken from her unnecessarily and without explanation, causing her immense distress.

Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, Rob Behrens, said: “This report shows the harrowing impact that failings in mental healthcare can have on patients and their families.

“Too many patients are not being treated with the dignity and respect they deserve and this is further compounded by poor complaint handling.”

Download the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman report .