Statement on the discharge of mental health patients in North Wales during the pandemic

Responding to the BBC report revealing that almost 1,700 mental health patients in North Wales have been wrongly discharged from support services during the pandemic, Hafal Chair Mair Elliott stated:

“We are appalled but sadly not surprised to find that huge numbers of vulnerable mental health patients have been discharged by Betsi Cadwaladr Local Health Board in what they state is an ‘error’: the Board should of course have had a coherent plan to deliver a slimmed-down but sufficient mental health service which would keep patients safe but instead they have deserted their vulnerable patients and put them at risk. We are also gravely concerned that the number announced by the Health Board appears to be only a fraction of those who were affected by this approach.

“We warned at the beginning of April that there was insufficient national guidance on how a safe level of mental health service would be maintained across Wales, and we have not seen credible information from Local Health Boards about what minimum service remained available to patients and how they can access it. I wrote to the Minister of Health on April 2nd warning that patients were being discharged from services and that support for those with the greatest needs was being severely reduced but did not get anything beyond vague assurances that Local Health Boards would cover these matters in their local plans – and yet in spite of repeated requests we have still not seen Local Health Boards’ contingency plans for maintaining essential services.

“A question that must be answered by the Minister is who has misled him? In his two responses to my letters he repeatedly confirmed that he had been assured that such matters were in hand and that we could be reassured that services were in place. Who gave these assurances to the Mr Gething, and why were they not followed up and fact checked? In the case of Betsi Cadwaladr, given that the Board is still in special measures, why weren’t their actions monitored or scrutinised?

“So this is not a surprise at all – and we fear that because of the lack of national leadership and guidance patients may well have been let down in other parts of Wales as well.

“Though it will be important to learn lessons, right now the priority is to fix the problem and ensure the safety of mental health patients: a good start would be for the Minister to issue guidance on the minimum service available throughout Wales; and this would need to revised, not less than every month, to indicate the increased level of service as the pressures from the pandemic diminish.”

For more information please contact Matt Pearce, Head of Communications, by email at matthew.pearce@hafal.org