Consultant says North Devon mental health wards are almost at their limit

Dr David Richardson, consultant psychiatrist at NDDH.

Dr David Richardson, consultant psychiatrist at NDDH. - Credit: Archant

Consultant psychiatrist in North Devon District Hospital says mental health services are feeling increasing strain as admissions rise.

Let's Talk About It - the North Devon Gazette's campaign on mental health.

Let's Talk About It - the North Devon Gazette's campaign on mental health. - Credit: Archant

Mental health wards in North Devon are running almost at their limits, according to a doctor in the field.

As a consultant psychiatrist at North Devon District Hospital’s (NDDH) Ocean View ward, Dr David Richardson has experienced the growing strain on mental health services first-hand.

In his three-and-a-half years at NDDH, Dr Richardson has seen an increase in the amount of people admitted to the hospital’s three mental health wards – Ocean View, Moorland View, and Meadow View.

The first two, which treat adults of a working age, have 16 beds each, and the latter, which treats the elderly, has 14 beds.


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“The recommended bed capacity from the Royal College is 85 per cent, and we are running above 95 per cent, the same as every unit around the county,” said Dr Richardson.

“We are lucky we have got relatively more beds than others.”

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With all healthcare departments facing the prospect of huge savings in the coming years, Dr Richardson said staff are feeling the strain.

“Recruitment and retainment is a big issue, and probably getting worse,” he said.

Theresa Rollason, staff nurse; Dr David Richardson, consultant psychiatrist; Stuart Davey, healthcar

Theresa Rollason, staff nurse; Dr David Richardson, consultant psychiatrist; Stuart Davey, healthcare assistant; and Sophie Robinson, staff nurse, at NDDH. - Credit: Archant

“The staff are feeling under pressure to deliver more and more on less and less.”

With admissions increasing, one of the most common mental health issues on the rise is personality disorders, said Dr Richardson.

“We’ve seen increases in these types of admissions relating to substance misuse, alcohol and cannabis in particular,” he added.

“New psychoactive substances (legal highs) are also a problem.

“At the same time I think the austerity regime has impacted hugely on people. There are many more stresses around accommodation and benefits, for example.”

But he said the increase in admissions could also be down to a growing awareness around mental health.

“We’ve got evidence that demand on services is increasing, which reflects people talking about mental health more, recognising signs and symptoms, and coming for treatment sooner than they otherwise would,” said Dr Richardson.

Despite staffing difficulties and budget cuts, Devon Partnership Trust (DPT), which manages adult mental health services in Devon, has seen successes for mental health.

While the wards at NDDH only see the most extreme cases – mainly people at risk of harming themselves – the hospital is integrating mental healthcare into all its wards.

A specialist liaison team supports people in need of mental healthcare who are admitted to hospital for a physical reason. DPT is also supporting new mums with perenatal care.

Around 4,000 people last year accessed DPT’s Depression and Anxiety Services in North Devon, for mild-to-moderate mental health issues.

In total, last year, DPT had 64,000 referrals for all of its mental health services across the county.

Dr Richardson added: “We see people that want to die or harm themselves, people in a pit of despair, or someone so disabled by their anxiety they cannot leave the house, and by the time they leave they no longer feel like that. I think that is the most rewarding thing about this job.”

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