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Homicidal patients not spotted

4th December 2006

01052006_mandepressed1Q.jpgOne person a week dies at the hands of a mentally ill patient, a new report has revealed.

The report, published on Monday, found that mental health services are failing to spot patients who are homicidal or suicidal and often class such people as ‘low risk’. Report author, Professor Louis Appleby, found that nearly half of the 1,300 mental health patients who commit suicide each year were seen by doctors beforehand. He also revealed that nearly a third of patients who committed homicide were seen by mental health services in the previous week. 249 people have been killed by psychiatric patients released into the community over the last five years.

Professor Appleby suggested that a large part of the problem was that mental health professionals become “desensitised to the risks they are dealing with" and that it was difficult for them to establish which patients posed the biggest threat to society.

The report recommends that mental health units be made more secure to prevent patients from absconding. It also suggests that observation practices on wards need tightening to prevent suicides.

The report found that one in six of the killings was due to patients failing to take their medication properly, something that mental health professionals are responsible for. Government Health Minister Rosie Winterton said she accepted there were problems with the mental health system but added that the government could not force discharged patients to take their medication. She called for a change in the law to ensure that care in the community is reflected in modern legislation.

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