Hundreds of mental health patients in England are being sent to hospitals miles from their home because of bed shortages in their local area.
"Statistically, if you’re sent away from your local area, you stay in hospital longer. For some areas it looks like there aren’t enough beds and for some areas, it is that there aren't alternatives to admission. Focusing on care in the community is really important.” Dr Adrian James, president, Royal College of Psychiatrists
Hundreds of mental health patients in England are being sent to hospitals miles from their home because of bed shortages in their local area, the BBC has reported.
NHS data shows that, at the end of August this year, 630 patients were in inappropriate out-of-area placements (OAPs), more than half of which were more than 60 miles from their home
Across England, patients spent 191,515 inappropriate OAPs days in the year ending this August, down 19% from the year before. But 25 trusts saw an increase in the number of days patients spent in OAPs, with 12 trusts recording their highest figure of OAP days yet.
Paul Spencer, head of health, policy and campaigns at the mental health charity Mind, believes that OAPs are traumatic for patients as well as costly to the NHS, and that “people are cut off from their support networks right at the very moment they need them most.”
The NHS had planned to end OAPs by March 2021. “It’s incredibly disheartening to see progress stall on reversing the number of inappropriate OAPs,” Spencer told the BBC. “We know that it is possible to stop OAPs and some trusts are doing much better than others. Over the coming year we need a sharper focus in those areas where people are being repeatedly let down. We need the prime minister to urgently recommit to delivering a cross-government mental health plan.”
Dr Adrian James, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “Statistically, if you’re sent away from your local area, you stay in hospital longer. For some areas it looks like there aren’t enough beds and for some areas, it is that there aren’t alternatives to admission. Focusing on care in the community is really important.”
Almost £10m was spent on inappropriate OAPs in August, with 94% of placement days spent with private organisations. Private beds are often more expensive.
An NHS spokesperson said: “Mental health services are committed to ending inappropriate OAPs as quickly and as safely as possible and the number of new patients sent out of area has halved over the last three years.
“While the pandemic has led to a significant increase in service pressures through a combination of a high number of bed closures, staff absences, and higher levels of mental health need – the NHS has treated tens of thousands more people in the community since the publication of the NHS Long Term Plan and will continue to work with social care colleagues to reduce rising length of stay in mental health settings.”
The NHS set a target of March 2021 to end out-of-area placements for mental health patients, yet 18 months on, hundreds of patients every month are still being sent many miles from home. For those patients, the experience of being a long way from family and friends can itself be damaging for their mental health, and they typically take longer to recover. Mental health services have long suffered from underfunding, but the sharp increase in demand since the pandemic has made the situation much worse. It is time for the government to put an end to the chronic underfunding of mental health services and to publish its long-awaited workforce plan to make sure that there are both enough beds and enough staff to treat patients in hospitals close to their home.