A quarter of acute psychiatric wards in London are unable to admit severely disturbed patients, even though extra beds have been made available, according to a survey published this week.

The survey, by the Royal College of Nursing and the Institute of Psychiatry, says that inpatient services for people with severe mental illness are reaching crisis point. It blames staff shortages, lack of experienced mental health nurses and high staff turnover.

The survey found each ward has, on average, three vacant posts for staff nurses, charge nurses or sisters. The shortage of permanent mental health nurses has led to heavy reliance on agency and bank staff, with one third of wards covered exclusively by them at night.

Overall, half the nurses working night shifts are agency nurses, those working overtime or bank staff.

In-Patient Mental Health Services in Inner London. From Jane Rose, RCN Institute, Radcliffe Infirmary, Woodstock Road, Oxford OX2 6HE. pounds12.