Nearly two-thirds of patients have to travel more than 60 miles
“These placements are bad for patients, for their relatives and loved ones, and for the exchequer." Subodh Dave, dean, Royal College of Psychiatrists
Thousands of mental health patients are being forced to travel tens or hundreds of miles for NHS treatment, because beds are not available locally.
Figures from NHS Digital, analysed by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, show that in May there were 575 “inappropriate out of area mental health placements” in England.
Nearly two-thirds of patients (62%) had to travel more than 60 miles from home, the figures show, while half of placements lasted longer than 31 days.
In 2016, an independent enquiry called for an end to the practice of sending hundreds of mentally patients miles away to receive treatment. The government made a “national ambition” to eliminate inappropriate out-of-area placements by 2020-21, but despite the deadline passing, little progress has been made.
In the 12 months since the deadline, 4,180 new out-of-area placements have been recorded.
Covid-related pressures, including bed closures for infection control and staff absences, are believed to be contributing to the continuing problems.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists is unhappy about the lack of progress. “These placements are bad for patients, for their relatives and loved ones, and for the exchequer,” said the organisation’s dean, Subodh Dave.
“What we want is an end to these inappropriate out-of-area placements, and better funding of mental health services both before and after admission to support crisis teams to support rehabilitation efforts.”
One parent, Rachel Bannister, told Sky News that when her daughter was diagnosed with an eating disorder in 2013, she was sent to several hospitals far from the family home in Nottingham, including one in Scotland, hundreds of miles away.
Sometimes out-of-area care is the right option – if, for example, the patient requires specialist services their local hospital can’t provide, or if they want to be closer to their family.
The Department of Health and Social Care said in a statement: “Everyone should have access to safe, appropriate mental health care and we recognise the impact that receiving care far away from loved ones can have.
“That’s why we are investing an extra £2.3bn per year to transform NHS mental health services by 2024, meaning more people will be able to receive care as close to home as possible.”
It’s hugely disappointing that a pledge made several years ago to end the practice of sending patients long distances away from home to receive mental health treatment has still not been fulfilled. As demands on mental health services grow, the need for better local care increases. Sending patients away from home risks making their condition worse, rather than better, and can be devastating for their families. In times of financial hardship and rising costs, adding a 60-mile journey on top of treatment is only going to deter people, result in no-shows and ultimately lead to poorer outcomes. Such issues should not be prevalent in the system – and this was seen in Covid-19 vaccine centre routing problems.