Mental health patients sent up to 180 miles away for treatment
Mental health patients in South Staffordshire were sent up to 180 miles away for treatment because their needs could not be met locally.
The former South Staffordshire and Shropshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust spent tens of thousands of pounds in a year by sending them away, with some having to travel as far as Somerset.
Figures from the NHS show that between June 2017 and May this year, the trust placed patients with acute mental health needs in inappropriate 'out of area placements' on approximately 40 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.
Bosses at the trust, which merged with Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent Partnership NHS Trust to form the Midlands Partnership NHS Foundation Trust (MPFT) in June, say patients are sent outside of the county when their needs cannot be met within Shropshire.
Cathy Riley, managing director for Shropshire, at the MPFT, said: “Some people with specialist mental health needs will be treated outside of Shropshire because their needs can not be met locally.
"When someone is cared for outside of Shropshire, their clinical team keeps in regular contact with the treating team which can include visits, and they work to get them back as soon as possible.
"Our community team also remain in contact with parents, family and the treating team.”
In May, the majority of the facilities that received patients from the trust were privately operated.
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.
He said: "The private sector are quite willingly cashing in on the gaps left in the NHS.
"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.”