The practice of sending mental health patients far away from friends and family to receive care has become endemic in the NHS, leading doctors warned as new figures show a rise in the number of patients sent miles away.
Some are even receiving care hundreds of miles away, the British Medical Association (BMA) said.
In recent years one patient from Somerset was sent to a care facility in the Highlands, 587 miles distant, the union found. And in Yorkshire, the Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust sent a patient 312 miles away to be cared for at the Glenbourne Unit in Plymouth.
Ministers have pledged to eliminate “inappropriate out-of-area placements” for mental health patients by 2020/21, but new BMA figures show a rise in patients being sent out of area for treatment.
Medics said being sent far away for care can hamper care and recovery. It means that patients can often be far away from their support network, with BMA chairman of council Dr Mark Porter describing how parents of a young man travelled for seven hours just to spend an hour with their son.
The union made Freedom of Information requests to clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) in England to discover the number of mental health patients that have been sent out of area for care for the three years from 2014/15. It found that the number of out-of-area placements increased from 4,213 in 2014/15 to 5,876 adults in 2016/17 – a rise of 39 per cent.
The BMA said friends and family could expect an average round-trip drive of up to seven and a half hours to see their loved ones who were receiving care far away from home.
“The practice of sending patients with severe mental health problems to beds hundreds of miles away from their home and families has become endemic in the NHS,” said NHS consultant psychiatrist and mental health policy lead of the BMA’s consultants committee Dr Andrew Molodynski.
“The Government needs to get a handle on this situation because patients are being routinely failed by a system at breaking point, with tragic consequences.
“Being sent long distances for treatment has an impact on patients’ care and recovery.”
BMA council chairman Dr Porter told delegates yesterday that Government ambitions to put mental health care on par with physical healthcare is a “very distant prospect”.
He said: “If your patient has mental rather than physical health needs, the situation is even worse.
“Thousands are shuttled around the country because of a chronic lack of beds. Isolated from their friends and family at their most vulnerable time.”
It comes after education and mental health leaders from across the country gathered at Leeds Beckett University to help shape the agenda on mental health in schools in an effort to battle “a growing crisis”.
Yesterday’s first annual Schools’ Mental Health Conference also marked the launch of the new Carnegie Centre of Excellence for Mental Health in Schools, a partnership between the university’s School of Education and social enterprise Minds Ahead.
Dean Johnstone, founder and CEO of Minds Ahead, said: “There is a crisis in children’s mental health and it wasn’t being addressed.”