Britain's acute mental health services are a 'disgrace' and a 'huge blot on the NHS landscape', Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Baroness Julia Neuberger has claimed.

In a wide-ranging speech at last week's Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy conference analysing Labour's health reform programme, the former King's Fund chief executive highlighted acute mental health as the government's main area of failure to date. 'Reorganising around the national service framework has done some great things in terms of outreach services and new approaches to depression, but acute services are appalling, ' she said.

Some of Britain's inpatient mental health facilities are 'violent places, with open drug dealing and open use of weapons', she said, arguing that NHS policy-makers and commissioners must focus on improving provision and 'think through what we mean by an equitable NHS'.

Baroness Neuberger praised Labour for many of its health reforms, including the introduction of the National Institute for Clinical Excellence, the Healthcare Commission and NSFs, and said that 'broadly, the patient experience is better'.

But she warned that much of the extra investment in the NHS was being taken up by pay increases, extra drugs and technologies and clinical negligence cases, with very little going on new services.

In addition, she warned the government to give more thought to what will happen in the event of market failure under the foundation trust model. She also said it should focus more on tackling public health issues like obesity and must improve its record on involving patients and the public in decision making.