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Mental health patients being sent long distances for treatment

Government not on track to end inappropriate placements

Jo Carlowe

Friday, 12 April 2019

Mentally ill patients are still being sent outside of their local areas for treatment, the latest statistics show.

The government set a national ambition to eliminate inappropriate Out of Area Placements (OAPs) in mental health services for adults in acute inpatient care by 2020-21.


However, the latest data* suggests the government is not on track to achieve this ambition.

National statistics for January 2019, reveal there were 675 OAPs active at the end of January, 785 at the start, and that 40 OAPs were for a distance of 300km or greater, with a further 115 at distances greater than 200km, and 325 at distances greater than 100km.

Commenting, British Medical Association mental health policy lead, Dr Andrew Molodynski, said: “The practice of sending mental health patients out-of-area can have severe consequences and as these figures show, the number of those being sent long distances to receive care remains worryingly high.

“Instead of seeing progress, the government is, in fact, moving further away from realising their ambition of ending this practice by 2021, and patient care is suffering as a result.

“In many cases, we are talking about highly vulnerable individuals whose recovery risks being further impeded by this highly disruptive practice, with the added disadvantage of friends and family not being able to visit as often as they ordinarily would.

“Of course, availability of beds is not the only solution to solving the mental health crisis, as the recent report by the Children’s Commissioner shows, there is a clear need for early intervention at a young age to reduce the number of people requiring acute care in the first place.

“As it stands, for the many patients who have unfortunately reached that crisis point, they cannot be guaranteed they will get the care they need where they live. This is a daunting prospect for anyone, and clearly, more investment and resources are needed to put an end to this worrying practice.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: "It is completely unacceptable for patients to be sent away from their family and friends for treatment. There has been a 12% reduction in inappropriate out of area placements since last month and we remain committed to end inappropriate placements by 2020/21.

“We are transforming mental health services with a record spending of £11.98 billion in 2017/18 and announced a further expansion of mental health services in our Long Term Plan for the NHS, with an additional £2.3 billion in real terms by 2023/24.

"This will give 380,000 more adults access to psychological therapies and 345,000 more children and young people greater support in the next five years." 


*Out of Area Placements in Mental Health Services January 2019. Data prepared by NHS Digital, April 2019.

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