The health and care regulator has written to mental health service providers over concerns the impact lockdown is having on the human rights of detained patients.
Between 1 March and 1 May, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) was notified of 106 deaths of people subject to the Mental Health Act (MHA). This included 54 deaths that providers indicated were confirmed or suspected Covid-19 related.
In a letter to providers, Dr Kevin Cleary, deputy chief inspector of hospitals and lead for mental health at the CQC, said: ‘This doubling of death notifications is due to Covid-19 related deaths and while this mirrors a rise in notifications from other sectors and includes deaths from confirmed or suspected Covid-19, it is obviously of concern.
‘We will continue to review this data in order to understand what factors might be driving this and if any additional action might be required to safeguard people. If we identify any significant clusters of deaths, we will be contacting you separately to seek further information on why these deaths have occurred.’
The letter points out the importance of infection control and that ‘all measures necessary’ should be taken to manage cases of Covid-19, including having enough supplies of protective equipment, and adequate training and staffing.
The CQC has started a series of MHA review visits, which it has been holding virtually, starting in the north of England. These involve interviews with ward-based staff and service users.
It will begin site visits to services it considers to be ‘high-risk’ soon, it said.
In response to the coronavirus crisis, the regulator is prioritising contacts it receives from or about people who are detained on an inpatient ward in hospital.
It aims to identify ways to help support people through its MHA monitoring, resulting in a quicker resolution to a complaint or concern.
It warned it will continue to inspect and take action where mental health, learning disability and autism services are not protecting people’s human rights and providing poor care.
Cleary said: ‘We want to be clear what we expect from providers in terms of their management of coronavirus and we will be asking some providers to urgently confirm the action they are taking to manage coronavirus outbreaks.’