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How has the extent of institutional mental healthcare changed in Western Europe? Analysis of data since 1990
  1. Winnie S Chow,
  2. Stefan Priebe
  1. Unit for Social and Community Psychiatry (WHO Collaborating Centre for Mental Health Services Development), Queen Mary University of London, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Professor Stefan Priebe; s.priebe{at}


Objectives It has been suggested that since 1990, de-institutionalisation of mental healthcare in Western Europe has been reversed into re-institutionalisation with more forensic beds, places in protected housing services and people with mental disorders in prisons. This study aimed to identify changes in the numbers of places in built institutions providing mental healthcare in Western Europe from 1990 to 2012, and to explore the association between changes in psychiatric bed numbers and changes in other institutions.

Settings and data Data were identified from 11 countries on psychiatric hospital beds, forensic beds, protected housing places and prison populations. Fixed effects regression models tested the associations between psychiatric hospital beds with other institutions.

Results The number of psychiatric hospital beds decreased, while forensic beds, places in protected housing and prison populations increased. Overall, the number of reduced beds exceeded additional places in other institutions. There was no evidence for an association of changes in bed numbers with changes in forensic beds and protected housing places. Panel data regression analysis showed that changes in psychiatric bed numbers were negatively associated with rising prison populations, but the significant association disappeared once adjusted for gross domestic product as a potential covariate.

Conclusions Institutional mental healthcare has substantially changed across Western Europe since 1990. There are ongoing overall trends of a decrease in the number of psychiatric hospital beds and an increase in the number of places in other institutions, including prisons. The exact association between these trends and their drivers remains unclear. More reliable data, information on the characteristics of patients in different institutions, long-term pathway analyses and effectiveness studies are required to arrive at evidence-based policies for the provision of institutional mental healthcare.

  • mental health services
  • institutional care
  • de-institutionalisation
  • re-institutionalization
  • psychiatric beds
  • prison populations

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