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Mental health patients sent hundreds of miles for care

Situation ‘a disgrace’ say campaigners

Jo Carlowe

Tuesday, 06 May 2014

The number of mental health patients sent out of their areas for treatment has more than doubled in two years.

An investigation by Community Care magazine and the BBC, using data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, reveals that of 30 mental health trusts in England, some 3,024 people were sent out of their local area for treatment last year. This represents an increase of 33% from 2012-13 and more than double the 1,301, sent away in 2011-12.

Several people were sent over more than 200 miles away and one person over 300 miles. In one case, a patient was admitted to a deaf unit as no beds were available anywhere in the country. Another trust paid to put people up in bed and breakfast accommodation in order to free up beds.

Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, says the situation is ‘a disgrace’. 

“It is a disgrace that people with mental health problems are being sent miles away from family and friends or being accommodated in inappropriate settings when they are acutely unwell. This is the latest in a long line of clear signals that, at least in some parts of the country, NHS mental health services are in crisis.”

He added: “The government continues to make important and very welcome commitments to improving care but it is obvious that there is an increasing gap between the government’s good intentions and the reality for people trying to access services. Continued cuts to funding for mental health services are taking a significant toll on the quality and availability of services, meaning more and more people are reaching crisis point and need to be hospitalised. Meanwhile, some trusts are closing wards and reducing bed numbers at a time when they are seeing increased demand.

“The cuts are self-evidently a false economy but the real scandal is that services are failing people with mental health problems and putting lives in danger as a result.”

Mark Winstanley, chief executive of Rethink Mental Illness, described the situation as “absolutely scandalous”. 

Health Minister Norman Lamb said out-of-area treatment is “a last resort”. Speaking to the BBC he said it was “unacceptable” for patients to travel hundreds of miles for treatment. He told the BBC that he was “determined” to drive up standards of care in the NHS. 

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