The number of people with mental ill health sent out-of-area due to a lack of hospital beds jumped by 13% in the past year to nearly 5,500, new research has found.
The figures, obtained by the BBC and Community Care magazine through Freedom of Information requests, found that some people had to travel nearly 300 miles to find a bed.
In 2015-16, the number of patients treated out-of-area – being cared for at a facility that it outside of the NHS trust area they live in – was 5,411, compared to 4,804 in 2014-15, a rise of 12.6%, according to data received from 42 of 56 trusts.
But the data also showed that this is part of an ongoing, worsening trend. Data from 28 trusts showed that in 2011-12, 1,215 patients were placed out-of-area, but by 2015-16 that number had risen by 236% to 4,093.
In one case highlighted by the BBC and Community Care, one patient had to travel from Devon to Bradford to find a bed – a journey of 286 miles. Another patient had to travel 232 miles from Manchester to Southampton.
Sometimes people are placed out-of-area if they cannot get the specialist care they require within the trust area they live in. However, routinely sending people sometimes hundreds of miles from home has been criticised by experts for not providing good outcomes and increasing the risk of suicide.
Speaking to the BBC, Care Services Minister Alastair Burt said it was “unacceptable that too many patients suffering from mental illness are receiving care so far from home.”
He added that the government has increased mental health funding to £11.7 billion and has accepted the recommendation of the Mental Health Taskforce that the inappropriate use of out of area treatments for adults in acute care must be eliminated by 2020-21.
Derek Caren, chief executive of mental health crisis house provider Recovery Focus, said: “It’s disappointing to see the figure of people having to travel hundreds of miles across the country rise so rapidly over the last year. Physical distance from friends and family can be severely detrimental to someone’s recovery when they’re experiencing a mental health crisis. We’ve condemned this problem previously and would urge the Government to act upon their rhetoric and end this practice.”