GREATER Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation has the worst record for missing patients, new figures show.

More than 3,400 patients went missing from mental health hospitals in England last year .

The Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust had 625 incidents in 2018-19 alone.

NHS figures show that 3,462 people who had been sectioned under the Mental Health Act went AWOL­— absent without leave — from treatment centres between April 2018 and March 2019.

Mental health charity SANE said it was increasingly concerned at the number of patients going missing from facilities, and blamed years of "relentless cuts" for creating appalling conditions on wards.

The figures are a 4.4 per cent increase on the previous year, when 3,316 incidents were recorded.

A patient is defined as AWOL if they leave the facility they are detained in without permission, or fail to return after being allowed out on temporary leave.

Gill Green, Director of Nursing and Governance for Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation said: “These numbers apply to the whole area our Trust serves and this includes Bolton, Salford, Trafford, Manchester and our specialist services which can accept service users from around the country. This is a vast area and covers many thousands of patients in a 12-month period.

“The Trust has a positive culture of reporting all incidents, including those which are deemed low risk. These can vary from a service user who is one hour late from agreed, planned leave, to someone who goes missing for a length of time and causes concerns. When this happens, we have robust systems in place to find these individuals as quickly as possible and this can include working with partner organisations such as the police, as well as the service user’s family and friends.

“By reporting every incident, we have a lot of data which we can analyse and identify any issues or trends that may be cause for concern. However, despite this extensive reporting, we have not yet found any issues which indicate a higher risk than we would expect in this area.

“Leave is an essential part of a service user’s recovery process. It allows for greater independence, a feeling of belonging to a wider community and gives a sense of hope and optimism that a life outside of an inpatient mental health unit is possible. By being incredibly watchful, we are not unduly concerned that these figures reflect a significant problem in the organisation.”

SANE chief executive Marjorie Wallace said absences among sectioned patients could lead to an increased risk of suicide.

She said: "We are increasingly concerned at the number of patients across the country that go missing for one reason or another, particularly those who become acutely ill without their medication and who can become a risk to themselves and others.

"We need urgent action to prevent patients going absent, or we risk an increase in suicides amongst this group."

Alison Cobb, specialist policy adviser at the charity Mind, said it was difficult to draw definitive conclusions from the figures.

However, she said the Mental Health Act is used in a way that fails to treat people with dignity and respect.

"Hospital wards can be stark and inhospitable, and when people are sectioned they are sometimes subject to unnecessary restrictions and practices such as physical restraint, seclusion or forced medication," she said.

"When someone is in hospital with a mental health problem, they are very unwell and need to be in a safe, therapeutic environment until they have recovered sufficiently to be discharged.

"Mental health services have a responsibility to ensure the safety of those in their care and any failings, including people absconding, should be thoroughly investigated."

An NHS spokesman said an extra £2.3 billion was being invested in mental health services as part of the NHS Long Term Plan.

The money will go towards making sure inpatient facilities are properly resourced as well as early interventions for patients to prevent problems escalating, he said.