VULNERABLE PEOPLE with mental health problems are being sent up to 60 miles from home for treatment because of a shortage of beds, an investigation by The Yorkshire Post reveals today.
Doctors have warned that the sheer number of people being sent away causes distress that can have “fatal consequences”.
Yorkshire patients were sent away for treatment on around 230 occasions in a four-month period, analysis of NHS data has found, despite a pledge to end so-called out of area placements.
Nationally, there were more than 2,000 such adult placements between October and January, costing the health service more than £17m.
But that could hide the true scale of the problem because children have also been sent miles from home for treatment - a practice not included in those figures.
The Department of Health has acknowledged the use of inappropriate out-of-area placements as “unacceptable”, but the government has been accused of making the problem worse by starving the health service of funds.
Dr Gary Wannan, an adolescent psychiatrist and chairman of the British Medical Association’s (BMA) community care committee, said extra funding was needed.
Dr Wannan said: “It is unacceptable that hundreds of mental health patients in Yorkshire have been forced to travel for treatment as lack of funding and subsequent bed shortages are largely to blame for pushing mental health services in the area to capacity.
“The government’s pledge to improve mental health is somewhat redundant given the woeful absence of additional funding for mental health services in the Spring budget. They are failing to get a grip on this situation.”
“To ensure these patients and their families are not unfairly inconvenienced any further, the government must match rhetoric with funding.”
The investigation found an estimated 235 occasions in Yorkshire where adult patients were sent out of their home area for treatment between mid-October and January 31.
In the 14-week period medics in the Vale of York had to send patients away on at least 80 occasions, spending more than £500,000.
In Wakefield it occurred at least 55 times while patients in the Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby patients were sent away on around 40 occasions.
Data collected by NHS Digital shows that dozens of Yorkshire patients had to travel up to 100 kilometres - equivalent to around 60 miles - for a bed.
A Department of Health spokesman said: “It is clearly unacceptable for people to be sent hundreds of miles away for care at a time when they need the support of friends and family the most.
“That’s why in April we committed to a national ambition to eliminate inappropriate out of area placements by 2020/21.”
The Yorkshire Post investigation comes after analysis by the BMA found that a 44 per cent drop in mental health service beds in England had led to “particularly acute pressures”.
“Between March and October 2016 an average of 726 mental health patients had been given out of area placements each month”, the BMA report said.
The report said out-of-area placements were costly for the NHS and doctors were concerned about the impact on vulnerable patients. It added: “Indeed, the added distress can have profound, and unfortunately fatal, consequences.”
The Department of Health said the BMA figures were from different time periods when the “way of counting beds was different”, but BMA said its analysis showed the number of beds decreased steadily in both periods.