MENTAL health patients discharged from overstretched emergency wards in Lancashire ­— without any follow-up ­— have been actively attempting suicide.

That is one of the findings of a scathing review of frontline services provided by Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust.

Medical leaders from Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust were drafted in to assess urgent care services, amid growing unease about the county’s under-pressure mental health system.

Chief Constable Andy Rhodes had voiced concerns about the number of police officers forced to watch over mental health patients while they awaited assessment at emergency departments including Royal Blackburn Hospital.

Reviewers say people in crisis have been left in police hands because of systemic problems with accessing advice and support services.

Each month 107 people are taken to Lancashire accident and emergency wards as a ‘place of safety’. Thirty-one per cent are admitted but, of those discharged, a third received no follow-up assistance. There were examples of service users without follow-up “actively attempting suicide”.

Another finding was: “Service users shouldn’t have to be picked up by the police just to get help ­— the system is criminalising people with mental health problems and that is wrong.”

Senior management at Lancashire Care have been accused of “taking pleasure in each other’s challenges”, with a blame culture evident.

A&E at Royal Blackburn Hospital saw more patients having to wait 12 hours or more for mental health liaison workers.

And despite footfall doubling in just three years, the rate of referrals from the ward to liaison staff remained static over the period.

Question marks were also raised over why under-used ‘crisis houses’, like Oak House in Blackburn, were not deployed.

Caroline Donovan, Lancashire Care chief executive, said: “We welcome this report and its recommendations even though it makes for very difficult reading for all of us involved in the delivery of mental health care.

“We are so sorry that our services have, in many instances, fallen way short of what we aspire to, and that our patients and families deserve.”

She took over the NHS trust earlier this year following the Prof Heather Tierney-Moore’s retirement.

Action plan to tackle Lancashire Care failings

AN action plan has been devised to address the findings of a damning review of emergency mental health provisions in Lancashire.

Extra funding has been secured by clinical commissioners to improve Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust services, following an independent review by senior medics from Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust.

Health chiefs are looking at installing a police liaison officer, to tackle serious concerns about mental health patients being left stranded at emergency departments.

A street triage pilot, being trialled in Blackpool which has cut the number of welfare cases, may be extended. Increased funding will also be provided for A&E liaison teams.

Live monitoring of bed availability is planned and extra staff drafted in for community mental health teams. Operating hours of home treatment teams are also being widened.

The lack of short-term rehab or learning disability beds is being addressed with commissioners.

Chief executive Caroline Donovan said her staff were “dedicated, professional and compassionate” and would be supported in delivering “high quality care”, where and when it was needed.