Emergency mental health services for the most vulnerable are "under-resourced, understaffed and overstretched," a charity warned today.
Four in 10 crisis care teams, who help patients with suicidal behaviours and psychotic episodes, have staffing levels well below established benchmarks, according to a freedom of information request by Mind.
The mental health charity also highlighted a huge variation in the number of people being referred to crisis teams by GPs, hospital doctors, other mental health teams and the police.
As few as 42 per 10,000 people are referred on in some areas of England and Wales, while in other areas the figure stands at 430 per 10,000.
University College London research found that a massive 86 per cent of patients felt they needed more support in an emergency and that one in 10 crisis teams in England do not operate 24-hour, seven-day-a-week service.
Mind chief executive Paul Farmer said the charity often hears from people who have been turned away because they "aren't suicidal enough" or who have been made to wait for hours to be seen by someone who can help them."
RCN general secretary Peter Carter called the results "shocking" and said they showed "serious failings in the care which is offered to people at times when they are extremely vulnerable."
He added: "Crisis teams are an emergency service, and like all such services it is irresponsible and short-sighted to cut them back to the bare bones."
The government has pointed to its NHS mandate, launched earlier this month, which aims to place mental health illnesses on a par with physical ones.
And a Welsh government spokesman added its Together for Mental Health strategy sets out the expectation that people should be able to access mental health services quickly and easily at all times.