Simon WesselyMore than 500 people in England were placed in an in-patient psychiatric bed that was outside of their local area in December 2016 – with 23 people having to travel more than 300 kilometres from home to access a bed, official figures have shown.

Figures from NHS Digital revealed that there were 528 out-of-area placements at the end of December 2016, of which 96% were due to a lack of availability of a local bed. This is known as an inappropriate placement.

The North had the most out-of-area placements (225), followed by the Midlands and East (120) and the South (110).

It is possible the full number of out-of-area placements could be higher, as NHS Digital was only able to collect data from 46 out of 58 organisations.

NHS Digital’s figures also showed that patients spent 15,118 days out-of-area, with 71 patients spending over a month receiving mental health treatment outside of their local area. In addition, 242 patients had to travel more than 100km to receive treatment. 

The cost associated with out-of-area placements in December 2016 was more than £6.76 million.

The Government has set a target to eliminate inappropriate out-of-area placements in acute adult inpatient mental health services by 2020-21.

Professor Sir Simon Wessely (pictured), president of The Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “Sadly [these] figures show that too many people still have to travel long distances to access acute mental health services. It has been a year since the Commission on Acute Adult Psychiatric Care called for an end to the practice of sending people out of area for acute mental health inpatient care due to local bed pressures, and yet the latest figures show that out of area placement figures are unacceptably high.  

“If the Government is to meet its own target of ending out of area placements by 2020/21, it needs to ensure investment reaches front line mental health services and hold commissioners and providers to account for achieving this target. Also key to this will be Government actions to tackle the underlying problems across the health and care system, particularly delayed transfers of care from mental health settings which are partly due to the unavailability of supported accommodation and rehabilitation services and continue to rise.”