BBC's Hospital viewers slam 'chronic shortage of mental health beds'

Suicidal woman describes stealing a plastic knife to harm herself with during 50 HOUR wait in A&E while staff desperately search for a bed in psychiatric care, leaving BBC Hospital viewers horrified

  • Viewers of BBC2’s Hospital were shocked over shortage of mental health beds 
  • Emergency Department at University Hospital was overwhelmed by patients
  • One suicidal woman was left in A&E for 50 hours after being sectioned 
  • Doctors described difficulties of having staff on ‘one-to-one’ care for patient
  • Anyone seeking help can call Samaritans free on 116 123 or visit 

Viewers of BBC2’s Hospital were left shocked last night as A&E staff desperately searched for space in a clinic for a suicidal woman who had been waiting in the department for 50 hours. 

The anonymous woman, from Coventry, was sectioned at the emergency department at University Hospital but was forced to wait for a bed at a psychiatric unit for three days.

She remained suicidal while in A&E, telling a doctor she had been thinking about stealing a plastic knife and harming herself with it.  

Natasha Khan, manager at the department, said it was ‘a challenge’ to find the middle-aged woman a bed because there were ‘no female mental health beds available in an NHS hospital in the country’.

After three days, a psychiatric care bed was found for the patient – but many viewers were left shocked by the three-day long wait.

Viewers of BBC2’s Hospital were left shocked last night as A&E staff in University Hospital, Coventry, desperately searched for space in a clinic for a suicidal woman who had been waiting in the department for 50 hours (pictured, the anonymous woman, and right, her one-to-one nurse) 

One commented: ‘I just watched BBC2’s hospital. The chronic lack of mental health inpatient beds is horrifying and dreadfully sad. Thank goodness for the compassion shown from the ED staff while desperately searching for a bed for a patient.’ 

Another wrote: ‘Watching hospital and I can’t stress enough how much our country needs to work on the mental health departments.

‘It’s not going to go away, it’s going to build up, lists are getting longer and wards busier. 

‘More has to be done. My heart aches for this department and the patients.’ 

Many of those watching the programme were left shocked by the shortage of beds, with some saying it was ‘horrifying’ 

Nationwide, there has been a chronic shortage of mental health beds and over the past 30 years, the number available has fallen by 70 per cent after policy changed to treat people in the community.

Lockdowns created ‘unprecedented’ mental illness pandemic with surge in calls to helplines, experts warn

In January this year, experts warned lockdown was creating an ‘unprecedented’ mental illness pandemic with a surge in calls to helplines.

Mental health charity Mind’s daily website views rose from 9,580 on January 4 to 14,167 after the announcement of a third lockdown in the UK.

Two former health secretaries also spoke out about the crisis, as Andy Burnham, the Greater Manchester mayor, told the Telegraph: ‘There is a mental health crisis and people are crying out for support.’ 

Jeremy Hunt MP said there was a risk isolation could become a ‘tipping point’ leading to an ‘epidemic’ of mental illness

Mind’s chief executive Paul Farmer said: ‘It’s no understatement to say that the nation is facing a mental health pandemic.’ 

And YoungMinds’ parents helpline were receiving calls about anxiety, depression and self-harm, according to its chief executive Emma Thomas. 

During his coronavirus news briefing on January 5, the Prime Minister said approximately £12billion had been spent on NHS mental health care, with around another £19-20million contributed towards mental health charities.

But Ms Thomas told MailOnline: ‘The pandemic is deepening the crisis in young people’s mental health and there is a growing body of evidence suggesting that the impact could be significant and long-term. 

‘Young people tell us that they’ve struggled to cope with the changes and loss of coping mechanisms brought on by the pandemic, with many experiencing social isolation, anxiety, and fears around their future.’

Samaritans had had more than a million conversations with Brits since lockdown began in March, while Papyrus, a suicide helpline for under 35s, recorded a spike in conversations when stricter measures returned in November. 

At the start of the outbreak, Mind, Samaritans, Shout, Hospice UK and The Royal Foundation created Our Frontline – a dedicated helpline for workers who were out during lockdown.

Since then it has held more than 2,200 conversations with health, social care, emergency service and other key workers.    



In the last year, the University Hospital has seen a 30 per cent increase in patients arriving with mental health issues. 

Consultant Ed Hartley,  the mental health lead, said: ‘Since Covid started we’ve seen an increase in people with mental health problems who have never had a mental health problems before.

‘Our number is going up and up and up…we’re talking low level anxiety right through to serious psychiatric illness. Mental health is a huge part of our work now.’

On the day of filming on April 2021, 15 of the 100 patients who arrived to the emergency department had mental health concerns. 

Ed explained: ‘The pandemic has meant having people into clinic has been really difficult so we’ve got serious psychiatric illnesses have been deteriorating.’  

The team described how a woman had been left waiting for a bed in a mental health unit for 24 hours in A&E after attempting to take her own life.   

The anonymous woman had been assessed by the acute mental health team and held under the mental capacity act for her own protection. 

She couldn’t leave the hospital until a bed was found for her.

Natasha explained: ‘If you’re having a mental health crisis, A&E is not the right place for you to be. 

‘They’re loud, they’e busy, they’re always noisy so if you’re in at 2am or 2pm, the levels are similar.

‘It’s not the right environment for a mental health patient to stay.’  

Meanwhile Ed said: ‘She’s a lady in her middle age, and in the past few weeks has been deteriorating. She remains suicidal now. We’ve got staffing to maintain one-to-one supervision all day

‘We’ve only got 70 nurses for the whole day and one member of staff will be to sit with that patient all day. We’ll rotate people into that, but they won’t have any other duties.’ 

Meanwhile clinical sister Hayley Farrant  described how challenging it could be managing a person who was having a mental health crisis while still caring for other patients.

Explaining that the nurses on her ward ‘aren’t mental health trained’, she said: ‘Anyone with an acute mental health illness as well as a physical illness can be very very time consuming. 

‘That’s okay, they need their time  but the struggles we have when we have the patients on this kind of ward is we have very very sick patients as well. 

‘Trying to balance the two when you have the two together is very very challenging.’

After 32 hours, the patient was still waiting for a psychiatric mental health bed.

The team discovered all the female NHS mental health beds in the local area were full and began approaching other units across the UK for care.

Natasha said: ‘When all the solutions and next steps are out of your control, that can be really challenging.

‘It’s the feeling of being powerless and the feeling that you can’t fix it knowing you haven’t got a patient to the right bed, can be really really hard.’

Four hours later, and the team had yet to find a bed for the patient after learning there were no psychiatric female beds available across the UK.

During the programme, Natasha and Ed were left frustrated as they desperately tried to locate a bed on a psychiatric unit for the woman 

Ed said: ‘I’m not a psychiatrist, but she must be as ill as it’s possible to be from a mental health point of view. In A&E, we want things to happen as soon as it’s possible to be.

‘If you had a broken leg and you needed an operation,  we wouldn’t have you waiting in A&E for 36 hours.’  

He added: ‘The longer someone is in our department, the harder it is to treat them.’

Speaking with the patient, he explained there wasn’t a bed available for her yet, saying: ‘We still don’t want to discharge her home. I know things aren’t easy for you in here.’

Natasha described the hunt for a bed as ‘challenging’ and said it was ‘frustrating’ when things were ‘out of control’

She told him: ‘I feel like I’m wasting one of these beds. Somebody more important needs it.’  

Ed said: ‘You’re as important as everybody else. This is the right place for you at he moment. How do you feel, are you feeling calm are the moment?’ 

She told him she was still feeling suicidal, explaining: ‘I had a plastic knife earlier. I gave it back to the nurse because I was going to keep it and harm myself with it.’

She said: ‘I keep seeing things as well, it’s driving me nuts. It started yesterday.’ 

Meanwhile Ed spoke directly with the patient, who told him she had been thinking about hurting herself with a plastic knife 

Ed later told the camera: ‘She has tried to harm herself while she was in the department yesterday. As the hours tick by, that’ll be even more challenging for her to resist.’

The search for the bed was then extended to private mental health units that accept referrals, with Ed explaining: ‘It sounds like nationally, the picture for female mental health beds are really tight at the moment. I’m not optimistic.’

He said caring for mental health patients also impacted those being admitted to the A&E, saying: ‘It’s a case of one in and one out.

‘The system sometimes feels unpenetrable. The service the patients at times, through no fault of their own, is at times utterly unacceptable. That’s not here. That’s nationwide.’

Finally, after 50 hours, a bed was found for her, with Ed describing the service for patients as ‘utterly unacceptable’ 

Finally, after 50 hours, a bed was found for her, with Ed describing the search as ‘frustrating.’  

Viewers were shocked by the show, with one commenting: ‘Mental health issues affect you physically and physical health issues affect you mentally. Treat them both the same and everyone gets the help they need. The staff on the frontline are amazing but they need back up and reinforcements now.’

Another wrote: ‘Watching #Hospital highlight just how severely underfunded Mental Health Services are. I can’t stress enough the importance of mental health and how it should be considered a greater priority. 

‘My heart breaks for the patients and heroes that work tirelessly.’  

Anyone seeking help can call Samaritans free on 116 123 or visit 

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