You are here

CQC finds mental health inpatient services coped well with coronavirus (COVID-19) but there will have been ‘significant unmet need’ during lockdown

26 November 2020
  • Media

Mental health services that focused the most on applying the principles of least restriction were more successful in empowering their patients and staff to cope with the extra restrictions imposed during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) has found.

In its Monitoring the Mental Health Act in 2019/20 report published today (26 November), CQC also found that good services put emphasis on care planning to involve patients, as well as co-production with patients to improve the ward environment. However, with fewer beds and limited community support delivered through remote contact, there will have been significant unmet need during the first national lockdown.

This may increase the risk of people accessing services in a crisis through coercive pathways, including detention under the Mental Health Act. This has the potential to exacerbate the overrepresentation of some Black and minority ethnic groups who are already more likely to enter services through these routes.

CQC has a statutory duty to monitor and report on how services apply the Mental Health Act 1983 (MHA) to detain and treat people who have a mental illness and need protection for their own health or safety, or the safety of other people.

CQC’s Monitoring the Mental Health Act in 2019/20 report puts a specific focus on the impact that the coronavirus pandemic has had on detained patients, and on the services that care for and treat them and sets out actions needed to support people subject to detention under the MHA.

It concludes that:

  • It is vital that discharge planning is carried out in co-production with patients and their families/ support networks in order to ensure better outcomes.
  • Patients must be involved in decisions about their care, including infection control, and where this is done the negative impact of restrictions on detained patients during a pandemic can be limited.
  • Carrying out modernisation of the physical estate would help with infection control measures.
  • Services should recognise the significant impact restrictions of leave of absence and activity can have on detained patients and ensure these are lifted as quickly as safely possible to avoid very damaging ‘closed cultures’ from emerging.
  • The relaxation of rules around use of personal technology such as mobile phones should continue in future, and services should prioritise linked issues such as WIFI connectivity in future estates development.
  • Advocacy should move to be offered on an opt-out basis in future.
  • Careful evaluation of use of remote technology for care, treatment and contact purposes needs to be undertaken should aspects of them continue after the pandemic.

Dr Kevin Cleary, CQC’s Deputy Chief Inspector of hospitals and lead for mental health, said:

“The coronavirus pandemic has presented mental health inpatient services with an unprecedented challenge. For the most part we have found that services have coped well, with some showing exemplary practice in the co-production of care with patients. Staff have also shown exceptional resilience by continuing to provide care, particularly in those services that have tragically lost patients or staff to coronavirus.

“However, our monitoring of the MHA during the pandemic has further highlighted concerns we have previously raised, including the importance of patient-led and effective care planning with a focus on discharge and access to advocacy for all patients. The pandemic has also shone further focus on the need for modernisation of many mental health wards, primarily to improve the patient experience but also to assist with infection control.

“We saw examples of patients’ leave being cancelled or restrictions placed on their movements, as well as limits on visits from friends and family. We are clear that if services make blanket restrictions, they can demonstrate that they have considered the least restrictive option. We have seen examples of services managing this well, with increased mobile phone access and the use of video calling. We continue to monitor services and will intervene when necessary.

“With limited community support delivered through remote contact, and fewer inpatient beds, there will have been significant unmet need during lockdown. This may increase the risk of people accessing services only in crisis, increasing the risk of hospitalisation and detention under the MHA. We urge providers to collect data on trends in MHA practice during the pandemic, to inform decisions and ensure learnings can be applied as quickly as possible in the current wave of coronavirus and any future resurgence.”


For media enquiries about the Care Quality Commission, please call the press office on 02038 55 46 21 during office hours.

Also, follow the team on Twitter for the latest national announcements: @CQCPressOffice.

Journalists wishing to speak to the press office outside of office hours can find out how to contact the team here. (Please note: the duty press officer is unable to advise members of the public on health or social care matters).

For general enquiries, please call 03000 61 61 61.

Last updated:
26 November 2020

Notes to editors


At the start of the coronavirus lockdown, CQC suspended routine on-site MHA monitoring visits. In early April monitoring activity was restarted through ‘remote monitoring’. Details of this are set out in appendix A of the Monitoring the Mental Health Act in 2019/20 report.


About the Care Quality Commission

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) is the independent regulator of health and social care in England.

We make sure health and social care services provide people with safe, effective, compassionate, high-quality care and we encourage care services to improve.

We monitor, inspect and regulate services to make sure they meet fundamental standards of quality and safety and we publish what we find to help people choose care.