Vulnerable patients being sent 60 miles - due to a lack of beds

Dr Gary Wannan.
Dr Gary Wannan.
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Vulnerable people with mental health problems are being sent up to 60 miles away from home for treatment because of a lack of beds.

Doctors have warned of a mental health crisis after figures revealed the number of people being sent away from their homes and loved ones, causing distress which can have “fatal consequences”.

Yorkshire patients were sent away for treatment on around 230 occasions in a four-month period, despite a pledge to end “out of area placements”.

Nationally, it happened more than 2,000 times to adult patients between October and January. Patients being sent away for treatment cost the NHS around £17m in that period.

The government has been accused of making the problem worse by starving the health service of funds.

Dr Gary Wannan, an adolescent psychiatrist and chairman of the British Medical Association’s (BMA) community care committee, said extra funding was needed.

Dr Wannan said: “It is unacceptable that hundreds of mental health patients in Yorkshire have been forced to travel for treatment as lack of funding and subsequent bed shortages are largely to blame for pushing mental health services in the area to capacity.

“The government’s pledge to improve mental health is somewhat redundant given the woeful absence of additional funding for mental health services in the Spring budget.

“They are failing to get a grip on this situation.”

“To ensure these patients and their families are not unfairly inconvenienced any further, the government must match rhetoric with funding.”

NHS data show there were around 235 occasions where adult patients were sent out of their home area for treatment between mid-October and January 31.

In Wakefield it happened around 55 times and patients in the North Kirklees area patients were sent away on at least five occasions.

Some patients had to travel up to 100 kilometres - equivalent to around 60 miles - for a bed.

A Department of Health spokesman said: “It is clearly unacceptable for people to be sent hundreds of miles away for care at a time when they need the support of friends and family the most.

“That’s why in April we committed to a national ambition to eliminate inappropriate out of area placements by 2020/21.”

In February a report by the BMA found that a 44 per cent drop in mental health service beds in England had led to “particularly acute pressures”.

“Between March and October 2016 an average of 726 mental health patients had been given out of area placements each month”, the BMA report said.

The report said out-of-area placements were costly for the NHS and doctors were concerned about the impact on vulnerable patients.

“It added: “Indeed, the added distress can have profound, and unfortunately fatal, consequences.”

The Department of Health said the BMA figures were from different time periods when the “way of counting beds was different”, but BMA said its analysis showed the number of beds decreased steadily in both periods.