‘Eye-watering sums’ spent on sending mental health patients away for treatment

The NHS is spending millions of pounds on private beds for patients with mental health problems, it has been claimed.

At least 18 areas in England have no NHS mental health rehabilitation wards, according to a British Medical Association (BMA) investigation.

A lack of local services means some NHS patients are being sent hundreds of miles from home to receive the treatment they need, the research also found.

Dr Andrew Molodynski (pictured), the BMA lead for mental health, said out-of-area placements have become “endemic” within the health service, as he warned of the detrimental effect they can have on patients.

The research, published by the BMA’s The Doctor magazine, found the amount spent on inpatient beds in the private sector has increased significantly since 2016.

Of the 176 Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) in England which responded to a Freedom of Information request, 78 provided spending figures for mental health rehabilitation beds.

Among these CCGs, spending in the private sector increased by around £21 million – from £165,022,000 to £186,324,000 – between 2016/17 and 2018/19.

Spending on NHS mental health rehabilitation beds rose by around £2 million – from £139,422,000 to £141,594,000 – during this period.

Meanwhile, 18 CCGs said they have no NHS wards for mental health rehabilitation.

Among 129 CCGs and Trusts which responded, a total of 2,600 out-of-area beds were commissioned between 2016 and 2019, the research also found.

Around 90% of these were private beds, The Doctor magazine said.

This included a maximum round trip of 341 miles for a patient from Northamptonshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust to Glasgow for a mental health rehabilitation bed.

At NHS South Kent Coast CCG, the maximum round trip was 311 miles to Darlington.

Dr Molodynski said: “This practice goes against the very nature of rehabilitation, which should be a transitional process, helping to reintegrate a patient back into society.”

He added: “As well as the debilitating impact on the patient, the eye-watering sums being spent on out-of-area private providers is a clear sign that the Government must get a grip on this worrying practice.

“There are no positives here for patients, families, care services, or the public purse – quite the opposite.

“We need to ensure that care is available closer to home to give patients the best possible chance of recovery and reintegration.”

Dr Raj Mohan, from the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said the data is “extremely concerning”.

“The high numbers of people with longer-term serious mental illness being sent out of area for treatment shows that we are failing those who need rehabilitation care,” he said.

“There is a huge human and financial cost to sending someone out of area.

“Each out-of-area placement is a vulnerable person sent away from their family, friends, and the places they know, and makes it harder for them to access the services they need when they are ready to live in the community again.”

An NHS England spokesman said: “The NHS is expanding the availability of local services, but whoever provides care, they are required by CQC and the NHS to ensure it is safe and effective.”

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2019, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) BMA.