Number of mental health patients who go missing increases

Hellesdon Hospital. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Hellesdon Hospital. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2018

More than 280 patients under the care of the region's mental health trust were reported missing to police last year, it can be revealed.

The number of Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT) patients who went missing rose steadily between 2015 and 2017, from 254 to 281.

Every year the majority went missing from hospital and were sectioned, a Freedom of Information request showed.

Some 268 patients went missing from hospital in 2017 while 203 were sectioned.

So far this year 37 sectioned patients have been reported missing to the police.

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But NSFT said there were two types of missing patients - those who absconded from wards and those who went absent without leave (AWOL), patients who were reported missing when on home, escorted, or unescorted leave.

A spokesman said the number of absconsions from wards fell between 2015 and 2017, from 89 to 81.

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He said: 'The main factor behind the overall rise in the number of patients reported missing is an increase from 108 in 2015 to 135 in 2017 of AWOL patients on a Mental Health Act section.'

Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of mental health charity SANE, said she was not surprised the numbers had risen.

She said: 'We have become increasingly concerned in recent years at the number of patients across the country that go missing for one reason or another, either by absconding or not returning from unescorted leave, particularly those who become acutely ill without their medication and those who can become a risk to themselves and others.

'Unless the government creates or reopens mental health units and, most importantly, tackles the profound shortages of both psychiatric doctor and nurses, then the numbers wanting to abscond will continue to increase, and patients will continue to risk being lost within the system.'

The NSFT spokesman said in all cases the police were notified - immediately if the patient is high risk or after a search of the ward and grounds if they are medium or low risk.

He added: 'To reduce the risk of a service user going missing, risk assessments are undertaken which include the likely risks or concerns over the service user absconding, taking into account previous history, any patterns of absconding and the service user's vulnerability. The police are sometimes involved in developing a plan to reduce the risk.

'A review is undertaken whenever a service user goes missing, absconds or fails to return from leave.

'In addition, estates works are undertaken to reduce the risk of absconsion. For example, in the past two years, this has included fitting more secure windows, boxing in guttering and downpipes and fixing furniture to the ground so that it cannot be pulled up alongside a building to facilitate absconsion.'

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