The number of people being sent out of their local area to access a mental health bed has more than doubled in the past two years, according to new research.
Figures obtained by the BBC and Community Care magazine through Freedom of Information requests to 30 of the 58 mental health trusts in England revealed that last year 3,024 people were sent out of their local area for treatment. This was an increase of 33% from 2012-13 and more than double the 1,301 sent away in 2011-12.
In one case, a patient was sent 300 miles away and several people were sent more than 200 miles to access a bed.
This increase also came against a backdrop of a slight fall in inpatient admissions in the past year – from 167,285 in 2011-12 to 166,654 in 2012-13.
Worryingly, evidence emerged showing that the shortage of mental health beds meant that in some cases people are being put in unsuitable accommodation. For example, one person was admitted to a deaf unit after the hospital couldn’t find a mental health bed. Another trust paid to put people up in bed and breakfast accommodation in order to free up beds.
Previous research by the BBC and Community Care had found that many psychiatric wards are running at more than 100% capacity, while 1,700 mental health beds have closed in the past 2 years – a 9% reduction in the total number of beds available.
Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, reacted angrily to the findings: “It is a disgrace that people with mental health problems are being sent miles away from family and friends or being accommodated in inappropriate settings when they are acutely unwell,” he said. “This is the latest in a long line of clear signals that, at least in some parts of the country, NHS mental health services are in crisis.
“The government continues to make important and very welcome commitments to improving care but it is obvious that there is an increasing gap between the government’s good intentions and the reality for people trying to access services. Continued cuts to funding for mental health services are taking a significant toll on the quality and availability of services, meaning more and more people are reaching crisis point and need to be hospitalised. Meanwhile, some trusts are closing wards and reducing bed numbers at a time when they are seeing increased demand.
“The cuts are self-evidently a false economy but the real scandal is that services are failing people with mental health problems and putting lives in danger as a result.”