An NHS trust serving people in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough has spent hundreds of thousands of pounds sending mental health patients long distances away for treatment when there were no beds for them locally.
Figures from the NHS show that between June 2017 and May 2018, the Cambridgeshire And Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust placed patients with acute mental health needs in inappropriate Out of Area Placements (OAPs) on approximately five occasions.
An inappropriate placement is where a patient is admitted for treatment at a facility outside of their usual local network of mental health services because there are no beds available locally.
The mental health charity Mind says the impact of being far away from home on a patient’s mental health “cannot be overstated” and could even increase the risk of suicide.
Some of the patients sent away by the Cambridgeshire And Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust had to travel between 100 and 200 km.
The trust racked up a bill of around £286,000 over the 12 months to May paying for the care of patients on inappropriate placements, including the cost of additional ongoing placements that began prior to June 2017.
Over the year, all of the days that patients spent on the placements were in privately operated facilities.
Dr John Lister, co-chair of campaign group Keep Our NHS Public said a “cash squeeze” had left NHS trusts under pressure to reduce frontline mental health services.
“The private sector are quite willingly cashing in on the gaps left in the NHS,” he said.
“These are expensive beds and they are poor value for money, as private providers have an incentive to keep patients in longer.
“This is a significant problem and it continues to be very worrying.”
The Government has pledged to eliminate inappropriate out of area placements for adults with acute mental health needs by 2020-21, and Mind says this “can’t happen soon enough”.
However, in the 12 months to May, there were still around 8,285 new inappropriate placements made across England.
Patients on inappropriate placements spent a combined total of 222,000 days in facilities away from their homes during this time, the vast majority of which were privately run.
Geoff Heyes, head of health policy and influencing at Mind, said: “When you’re experiencing a mental health crisis, you’re likely to feel scared, vulnerable and alone, so your support network of family and friends are instrumental to recovery.
“It’s unacceptable that people who are at their most unwell and in desperate need of care find themselves travelling across the country to get help because there’s a shortage of beds nearby.
“The quality of care you get, and how likely you are to respond to treatment, shouldn’t depend on where you live.”
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “It is completely unacceptable for patients to be sent away from their family and friends for treatment.
“That’s why the NHS is opening more specialist beds to tackle this and we have committed to eliminating inappropriate placements by 2020-21.
“We want to see parity between physical and mental health, which is why we’re transforming services supported by record amounts of funding, and ambitious plans to increase the workforce, and as part of our long-term plan for the NHS we will announce more on how we will improve mental health later this year.”