The latest investigation by Community Care and the BBC has revealed that more people were sent to mental health wards outside of their local area in 2014-15 that in the previous year.
The figures were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act from 37 of 56 NHS mental health trusts. They revealed that:
- The number of mental health patients sent out-of-area by the trusts rose from 3,611 in 2013-14 to 4,447 in 2014-15.
- The cost of out-of-area placements rose from £51.4m to £65.1m (data from 30 trusts).
When asked to specify why trusts were sending people out of area, 30 trusts provided data that showed that nine out of ten (88 per cent) of placements were due to local bed shortages.
Some trusts confirmed that people had been sent more than 200 miles from home to receive care.
These figures come on the same day the Royal College of Psychiatrists published a report showing that recent problems accessing beds are due in large part to a lack of alternatives to hospital admission and problems with discharging people from hospital when they are well enough to leave.
It found that more than nice out of ten (92 per cent) wards are treating patients who could have been treated by other services if they had been available, such as crisis houses. Meanwhile around 16 per cent of patients are well enough to be discharged from hospital but are kept in, for example because of a lack of suitable local authority housing or supported accommodation.
Paul Farmer, chief executive of the mental health charity Mind, said:
“Despite increased recognition from the Government over the past few years of the need to improve support for people in crisis, these figures send a very clear message that mental health services are still struggling to deliver care for people who are at their most unwell. It is unacceptable that so many people are being driven hundreds of miles away from their loved ones in search of a hospital bed, at a time when they are often scared, vulnerable and most in need of the support of family and friends and familiar surroundings.
“The Crisis Care Concordat has now been established across England to bring together all agencies, from police and NHS to charities and social workers, at a local level to support people in mental health crisis. The local action plans from the Concordat are designed to both prevent crisis, by getting people help earlier, and also provide safe, speedy and appropriate support for people when they do reach crisis point. It is vital, however, that these plans are now properly implemented, so that services are there on people’s doorsteps when they are needed.
“Mental health has historically been underfunded and the crisis around out of areas placement is a symptom of a mental health service in dire need of significant investment in the right services. A mental health crisis is an emergency just like a physical health emergency and we should no longer be prepared to tolerate a second rate service for either.”
Commenting on the Royal College of Psychiatrists report, he added:
“[This] falls very much in line with our own concerns that mental health services desperately need to address the pressure on bed numbers, not least because this is often the reason for people being sent miles from their home for care. One of the chief stumbling blocks is a lack of alternative places, such as crisis houses, that would often be more appropriate for supporting people through crisis.”