Reasons behind the rising rate of involuntary admissions under the Mental Health Act (1983): Service use and cost impact

Shubulade Smith, Rebecca Gate, Kevin Ariyo, Rob Saunders, Clare Taylor, Kamaldeep Bhui, Ifigeneia Mavranezouli, Margaret Heslin, Helen Greenwood, Hannah Matthews, Phoebe Barnett, Stephen Pilling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


There has been a significant rise in the use of the Mental Health Act (1983) in England over the last 10 years. This includes both health-based Place of Safety detentions and involuntary admissions to NHS mental health facilities. Although these trends should clearly inform the implementation of mental health care and legislation, there is currently little understanding of what caused these increased rates. We therefore sought to explore potential underlying reasons for the increase in involuntary admissions and Place of Safety detentions and to ascertain the associated service costs.

We extracted publicly available data to ascertain the observed number of involuntary admissions (Section 2 or 3) and health-based Place of Safety detentions in England between 1999/2000 and 2015/2016. A simple regression analysis then enabled us to compare observed admission rates with predicted rates, between 2008/2009 and 2015/2016. This prediction model was based on observed figures before 2008. We then generated a costing model for these rates and compared admission costs to alternative interventions. Finally, we added relevant covariates to the prediction model, to explore potential relationships with observed rates.

Since 2008/2009, there has been a marked increase in the number of involuntary admissions (38%) and Place of Safety detentions (617%). The analysis revealed that for involuntary admissions, the period of greatest increase occurred after 2012, two years after austerity measures were implemented. For Place of Safety detentions, substantial rises were seen from 2008/2009 to 2015/2016, coinciding with the economic recession. The rise in Place of Safety detentions may have been worsened by a reduction in mental health bed availability. During the study period, involuntary admissions are estimated to have cost the English NHS £6.8 billion; with a further £120 million spent on Place of Safety detentions. This is approximately £597 million greater than predicted, had involuntary admissions continued to change at pre-2008 rates.

We conclude that the rise in involuntary admissions, and to a lesser extent Place of Safety detentions, were associated with three specific impactful events: the economic recession, legislative changes and the impact of austerity measures on health and social care services. In addition to the extensive arguments presented elsewhere, there is also an urgent economic case for addressing this trend.
Original languageEnglish
Article number101506
Pages (from-to)101506
JournalInternational Journal of Law and Psychiatry
Early online date13 Dec 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2020


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