One patient had to travel 600 miles to receive mental health treatment, new figures show
"It’s unacceptable that patients at their most fragile are having to be moved hundreds of miles from home and separated from friends and family at a time when they most need the support of their loved ones." Sue Webber, shadow minister for mental wellbeing in the Scottish parliament
Mental health patients in Scotland are being forced to travel hundreds of miles for treatment.
The figures, revealed in responses to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request by Scottish Conservatives to health boards, show that 150 patients have had to travel to England or Wales for treatment in the past five years.
The longest journey made was by a patient from Inverness who had to travel 600 miles to London for treatment. Another Highland patient with an eating disorder was transferred 522 miles away because no beds were available in Scotland.
The cost to health boards of transferring mental health patients to England and Wales between 2017/18 and 2021/22 was more than £15m.
Sue Webber, the shadow minister for mental wellbeing in the Scottish parliament, said the figures were “unacceptable”, adding: “This deeply alarming research highlights the intolerable reality facing many vulnerable patients in Scotland. Travelling long distances for any medical treatment is far from satisfactory, but for patients with complex psychiatric or psychological issues, it is actively detrimental to their mental wellbeing and chances of recovery.”
She added: “It’s unacceptable that patients at their most fragile are having to be moved hundreds of miles from home and separated from friends and family at a time when they most need the support of their loved ones. It’s a damning indictment of the SNP government that, on their watch, Scotland’s NHS lacks the resources to treat certain mental health conditions.”
Webber said that patients, some of whom had life-threatening illnesses, were being let down, adding: “And that’s before we even consider the cost implications for squeezed budgets of transferring patients far and wide.”
A spokesperson for the Scottish government said: “The cross-border transfer of Scottish patients can occur for a variety of reasons, including receiving care and treatment appropriate to their needs, and individuals from other countries returning home after a period of care and treatment. The same reasons can also lead to patients being transferred to Scotland from other nations.
“Mental health legislation governs the cross-border transfer of patients in to and out of Scotland and requires that the patient and their family’s views are taken into account, as well as regard being given to the best interests of the patient and the risks they may pose.
“It also includes various protections including the requirement for a warrant before transfer can take place, the awareness of the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland to any transfer that is considered urgent, and a right of appeal for patients to the Mental Health Tribunal for Scotland against the proposed transfer.”
These figures are shocking. No patient with any health problems should have to travel hundreds of miles for treatment, vulnerable patients here even less so. For people who are already vulnerable, separation from family, friends and other forms of support can only add to their problems. The figures reveal the stresses and strains that mental health services are experiencing, both in Scotland and elsewhere in the UK. We need to invest more both in treatment and preventative measures to make sure that those with mental health difficulties receive the care they deserve. We saw patients being routed hundreds of miles to Covid centres as a result of poor technical implementation, but this conscious decision highlights how far current provision of mental health care is from adequate.