NHS cracks down on sending mental health patients away from home

As part of an NHS England crackdown, mental health trusts are being forced to reveal how many patients they are sending away from home for treatment because they do not have enough beds.

Health service bosses want to make the 54 NHS mental health trusts in England start publishing details every month on the number of adults they have to arrange inpatient care for outside their own area.

Mental health campaigners have condemned out-of-area placements as a scandal that damages patients’ health.

Last year, almost 6,000 patients in England were sent elsewhere - almost a 40 per cent increase in two years. The cost of the practice to the NHS jumped 47 per cent from £108 million in 2014/15 to £159 million in 2016/17.

Such placements, according to charities, patients and families, are likely to leave patients undergoing a mental health crisis feeling scared, vulnerable and lonely.

NHS Improvement (NHSI), the health service’s financial regulator, is introducing the new duty to give regular public updates to help achieve the government’s aim of ending the practice by 2020/21.

Some of the 54 trusts have stopped sending patients for out-of-area care, and areas that have high levels of out-of-area placements will receive support from mental health managers in places that have ended the practice as part of a joint programme of support involving NHSI and NHS England.

An NHSI spokesperson said: “These placements are bad for patients, they are often done at the last minute and they cost more for the NHS, so [the move] will help trusts stay on track financially.”

Jeremy Hunt, Health Secretary, told the Guardian: “No patient should be sent away from their family and friends for treatment when they are seriously unwell. It wouldn’t happen with physical health and we shouldn’t accept it for mental health. That’s why I’m personally committed to ending the practice by 2020.”

Tim Kendall, national clinical director for mental health, NHS, said: “Sending acutely unwell people long distances for mental health inpatient care causes major distress for people and their families, coupled with high financial costs for to NHS. Ending this practice must be a priority for mental health providers.

“We have clear evidence from many areas that have already transformed services and done this sustainably so that people can always access acute care locally.”