Government dilutes out-of-area beds pledge

The government has been accused of ‘smoke and mirrors’ after changing the definition of out-of-area beds for vulnerable children with mental health problems.

The change means that children and adolescents can travel more than 200 miles away from home but still be classed as ‘in area’.

The definition, which comes under a series of BMA Freedom of Information enquiries, is based on the 10 NHS English regions. It was similar to the one used for adults, and resulted in smaller geographical areas.

In a 2014 report, NHS England defined out-of-area placements as those ‘where young people are harmed by the distance and disconnection from local services, family and friends’. In 2015, this changed to one based on ‘commissioning hubs’, which have the same boundaries as NHS regions.

Using NHS regions means that placements that previously would have been well out of area, are no longer defined as such.

But earlier this year, NHS England gave a statement to the BMA and the media saying it had actually ‘toughened up’ the definition for children and adolescent mental health services.

Gary Wannan, BMA consultants committee deputy chair and child and adolescent psychiatrist, said: “Patients and their families who are forced to travel for hours and hours to hospital will not have their beds counted as out of area. This is a very real harm that is not being accounted for.

“It can be an incredible wrench for children to leave their homes and families; being based far away is not going to help a young person in crisis.”