Published: 00:01, 05 March 2012
by Nisha Chopra
More than a hundred patients being detained under the Mental Health Act went missing from Kent hospitals last year.
Figures obtained by KentOnline show 124 psychiatric patients absconded in 2011 - up 37 on the previous year.
The statistics come after a mother criticised a Dartford hospital after an inquest jury confirmed it contributed to her son's death.
Beverley Brenchley's 22-year-old son Ollie Hedges had been taken to Littlebrook Hospital, after a string of suicide attempts - but escaped and was killed when he ran in front of a lorry just half-an-hour later.
Charity Rethink Mental Illness said cases such as Oliver's are becoming worryingly more common - with 100 mentally ill patients in England killing themselves every year after going missing.
Associate director Jane Harris said: "These patients are already in the system so they should be getting the best medication, all of the best support we can provide them.
"But unfortunately people often feel unsafe in hospital and end up absconding.
"A large number of people feel unsafe when in mental health hospitals, and that's the place you should be feeling safe, but in some places we're still using old fashioned, old buildings which are really not appropriate."
"unfortunately people often feel unsafe in hospital and end up absconding…” –jane harris from rethink mental illness
The figures for patients who went missing from Kent hospitals includes those who disappeared for an extended period - and those who were just a few minutes late back from an authorised absence.
A Kent and Medway NHS and Social Partnership Trust said: "The vast majority of mental health patients are not in-patients and are indeed treated in the community.
"In addition, many of those in hospital are not detained and can indeed come and go as they please. We have around 170 adult acute beds being used 365 days a year and out of approximately 3,300 admissions to hospital each year, with about half being under the Mental Health Act.
"Everyone admitted to hospital is assessed for risk of harm to themselves and indeed to others. This is a guiding factor in how we care for somebody.
"Many patients will be given agreed leave from a ward as part of their recovery and these figures will include data about anyone who is just a few minutes late back following leave.
"Mental health units are not prisons and there is a balance to be struck between creating a therapeutic environment and not having a daunting facility that does not allow for patients to benefit from agreed leave as part of their recovery.
"It is true that those suffering with mental health problems are much more likely to be the victims of crime than the perpetrators and these figures must not cause alarm, people's views of mental illness do still need to shift and there is much stigma still associated with mental health problems.
"We are currently reviewing all of our in-patient facilities in West Kent and Medway as we know we need to further improve the overall quality of our environments."
More by this authorKentOnline reporter
This website and its associated newspaper are members of the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO)