Cuts to the number of beds available for mentally-ill patients has corresponded with a rise in the numbers detained involuntarily, experts have said.

Researchers analysed data from 1988 to 2008 in England and found the number of beds for the mentally-ill decreased by 62 per cent over the period while the rate of detentions in psychiatric units increased by 64 per cent.

There have been moves to treat more mentally-ill people in the community, resulting in cuts to the number of inpatient mental health beds at NHS hospitals.

Community services include mental health teams, outreach programmes, home treatment in a crisis and early intervention services.

Writing in the British Medical Journal, the authors, from Newcastle University, Warwick University and Queen Mary, University of London, said: “The annual reduction in provision of mental illness beds was associated with the rate of involuntary admissions over the short to medium term, with the closure of two mental illness beds leading to one additional involuntary admission in the subsequent year.”

The authors suggested more closures could occur in the drive to save money.

They added: “In the present economic climate, further closure of inpatient beds seems the most likely strategy for funding improvements in community-based mental health services.”

However, they said the research does not suggest that bed closures “are intrinsically inappropriate”.

They added: “This strategy may well be a reasonable course of action; but the bed mix needs to be examined more closely and the rate and consequences of bed closures may need to be considered more carefully.”

Cardiff University professor of psychiatry Nick Craddock said: “Some politicians and managers seem more focused on reducing beds than improving care.

“However, all psychiatrists know that a carefully-considered voluntary admission early in an illness can prevent a later emergency involuntary admission. The loss of beds makes this increasingly difficult.”

Dr James MacCabe, from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, said: “With the drastic cuts in mental health beds, only the most disturbed patients can be admitted.

“Hospitals have been transformed from places of asylum to toxic pressure cookers which focus on containment rather than treatment.

“De-institutionalisation was a good thing but the pendulum has swung too far. Cutting beds even further will only exacerbate the problem.”