Sectioned: How the NHS’ beds shortage is twisting decisions on mental health wards

and Adam Bienkov

Patients are being unnecessarily sectioned under the Mental Health Act because of a beds shortage, it has emerged.

MPs on the Commons' health committee said they were "shocked" to have learned that unnecessary sections were taking place in order to get patients access a bed.

Pressure on hospitals' psychiatric wards is behind the problem, with 90% occupancy rates in over half of psychiatric wards and over 100% occupancy in 15% of wards.

One doctor told MPs that research evidence suggested there is an inverse relationship between the number of available beds and the number of people being detained.

"This represents a serious violation of patients' basic rights and it is never acceptable for patients to be subjected to compulsory detention unless it is clinically necessary," committee chair Stephen Dorrell said.

"A clinician who is complicit in this approach has compromised their professional obligations; both the professional regulators and the government should urgently investigate the prevalence of this practice within the mental health system."

The health committee's report, which was assessing the operation of the Mental Health Act 2007, said there was also "profoundly depressing" evidence for the poor operations of the 'deprivation of liberty safeguards' (DOLS) used to protect patients who lack mental capacity.

Those who suffer dementia or severe learning difficulties, which are usually subject to the safeguards, are finding their application varies wildly up and down the country – and are often ignored completely.

"DOLS are seen as complicated and difficult to implement, but this is no excuse for the extreme variation in their application across the country," Dorrell added.

"The current approach to these vital safeguards is profoundly depressing and complacent and the government must immediately instigate a review which details an action plan for improvement."

The Committee have also urged the government to review the use of Community Treatment Orders. Under the orders mental health outpatients can be detained if they stop taking treatment.

They found that CTOs, which have been dubbed "psychiatric asbos" carry a stigma and risk infringing patient's basic civil liberties.

Mental health charity Mind today backed the report's findings.

"The committee's report paints a picture that, sadly, will be all too familiar to many who have found themselves subject to the Mental Health Act. People with mental health problems ought to be able to feel confident that, should they be detained under section, powers to detain and treat them and make decisions on their behalf will be used with great care and for the right reasons. It is clear from the evidence presented to the committee that, too often, this is not the case" said Mind Head of Policy and Campaigns Vicki Nash.

The Department of Health said that they would now consider the report.

"Vulnerable people deserve to be fully protected at all times, particularly when they need to be deprived of their liberty in their own best interests. However, there are still unacceptable variations across the country and we are working with the Care Quality Commission, health services and local authorities to ensure that these protections are used whenever they are needed," said a spokesperson.