THE number of unexpected deaths of mental health patients in Dorset has risen by almost 50 per cent in three years, data reveals.

Figures from NHS Dorset HealthCare show there were 57 unexpected deaths in 2012/13, 83 unexpected deaths in 2013/14, 97 deaths in 2014/15 rising to 109 in 2015/16.

The youngest unexpected death was 17-year-old suicide and the oldest unexpected death was 92, who died from natural causes, according to information released to the Daily Echo.

Unexpected deaths include suicides, drug-related deaths, neglect and misadventure.

They also include unexpected deaths in prisons run by Dorset HealthCare in both Dorset and Devon.

As revealed in the Daily Echo, a public consultation is currently underway in Dorset to tackle the county's mental health care crisis and Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group is urging the public to have their say.

Experts say service users are ‘not having their needs met’ due to a rise in demand, too few beds and a workforce crisis that has left hundreds of vulnerable people travelling across the country for a bed.

Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of mental health charity SANE, said: “SANE believes that many of these deaths could have been prevented had steps been taken to prevent seriously disturbed people leaving hospital; community teams responded earlier and spent more time with patients; crisis care beds been made available locally; and ‘red alert’ warnings (often the concerns of family and friends) taken more seriously.

“The Government has claimed it is spending more money on mental health than ever before, but according to professionals, little of this is reaching the frontline as it is not ring-fenced and instead seeps into other areas of the general health budget.

“We also believe that while mentally ill people are turned away from A&E, have to be sectioned for treatment, or shunted around the country like unwanted parcels in order to find an available bed, the number of unexplained deaths will continue to rise.”

Dr Andrew Mayers, patron for Dorset Mind and a psychologist at Bournemouth University, believes the increase in deaths is due to underfunding.

He said “These deaths are an illustration that, despite promises from Government, mental health is underfunded and under-resourced. Already vulnerable people simply should not be dying because of mental illness. We need real investment otherwise people will continue to die. I will do all I can to press for that investment.”

Fiona Haughey, director of nursing and quality at Dorset HealthCare, said: “There was an increase in the number of unexpected mental health deaths in 2015-16, and we take any increase very seriously. However, we believe this figure partly reflects changes to the way deaths are recorded and investigated. It is very important these deaths are recorded properly so that we can investigate, review and, where necessary, learn lessons which will help us to reduce the likelihood of them happening again.”