Commissioners have been urged to check the quality of private mental health providers, as figures reveal many are failing to meet national standards.

Nearly 15 per cent of independent mental health providers are failing at least five of the core national minimum standards assessed by the Healthcare Commission.

This compares with 5 per cent of independent acute hospitals, 3 per cent of private doctors, 4 per cent of laser and light providers and 1 per cent of hospices.

Launching the commission's State of Healthcare 2007 report, chief executive Anna Walker urged primary care trusts to check up on mental health services.

'These patients are vulnerable and this is therefore a cause of concern to us.'

Areas of concern included monitoring and ensuring the quality of treatment and services, recruitment and training of staff, and the safety of premises. Other standards that proved hard to meet related to protection of patients from self-harm, and management of violent patients.

The report also looked at the performance of the four main private providers for all types of care. Top was BUPA, which met or almost met all 32 core standards in 73 per cent of inspections, followed by BMI/General Healthcare Group (63 per cent), Nuffield (62 per cent) and Capio (56 per cent).

Ms Walker highlighted poor commissioning, adding that another report, yet to be published, would reveal concerns over the value for money of mental health services.

The report also highlights a disparity in life expectancy across the country and concerns over dignity and privacy. It says PCTs do not fully understand local health needs, making it hard to buy targeted services. For instance, GPs have not recorded data on people's body mass index ratios, and may not be picking up signs of serious illness.

PCTs are often not even responding to known needs: last year, around 85 per cent had no diabetes education programme.

Commission chair Sir Ian Kennedy said: 'Purchasing and providing primary care affects millions of patients and our work shows that it is not as good as it should be. We are close to being able to offer all patients a minimum guarantee on standards - in the NHS and private sector - but we're not there yet.'

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