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Two-fifths of older adults in psychiatric wards got COVID

15 October 2020

At least two-fifths of older adults in psychiatric wards in London were infected with COVID-19 at the height of the pandemic, a new study led by UCL researchers has found.

The report in The Lancet Psychiatry claims that 15% of infected patients in the mental health wards died from the illness. The increased mortality rates may have been affected by slow testing and poor PPE provision.

The study looked at data from all 344 hospital patients across five mental health trusts in London aged over 65 or with young onset dementia, in March and April 2020. The patients had dementia, psychotic illness or depression.

None of the patients were known to have had the virus upon admission, but 131 were diagnosed by the end of April. The infection rate may be higher due to low rates of testing at the beginning of the pandemic.

Of those who fell ill, a third experienced delirium or acute cognitive decline as a result.

Four-fifths of the patients on the wards were compulsorily detained under the Mental Health Act or Mental Capacity Act.

DR UK Head of Policy said: “Patients had no choice about where they were during lockdown. The infection rate is truly shocking. There should not be increased risk for those who have to stay in psychiatric wards. Their dignity and safety should be paramount. We know a quarter of people who died in the first wave had dementia. The death statistics for those in these psychiatric wards are over double that. These figures are completely unacceptable, and this is yet more evidence that disabled people are bearing the brunt of this crisis.

“As we are now in the second wave, and it is likely that this London study reflects a national picture, it is critical that psychiatric wards can get tests and PPE quickly, and protect those in their care.”