Findings from a joint investigation by Community Care magazine and the BBC News show that NHS mental health trusts are sending a growing number of people to out-of-area hospitals as demand for in-patient care outstrips local bed capacity.
Researchers studied data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act from 30 of England’s 58 NHS mental health trusts to reveal that the number of patients sent to out-of-area hospitals rose 33% last year and has more than doubled since April 2011.
Some NHS mental health trusts were found to have sent people requiring in-patient care hundreds of miles for care. A few were found to have spent millions on procuring bed space at private hospitals due to local NHS units being full.
There are times when sending people out-of-area can be appropriate. For example, when a person with a specialist need requires a specialist service that is not available locally. However sending people out-of-area to cope with rising demand for inpatient admissions is not appropriate. It can be distressing for patients, damage continuity of care by making it harder for families and care teams to visit. It is also not cost effective.
Some commentators have argued that the removal of some of the lower levels of community-based support that people rely on to maintain their lives, is resulting in a growing number of people presenting in crisis.
These latest findings suggest that mental health services in England are struggling to cope with rising demand for crisis care.
Resources to support reductions in out of area placements
- A guide to good practice in the use of out-of-area placements
This guidance, published by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, aims to support good practice in dealing with out-of-area placements and provides advice on how to repatriate service users.
- In sight and in mind: A toolkit to reduce the use of out of area mental health services
This toolkit aims to support health, social care and housing commissioners to develop and commission services that are as close to home as possible for people using mental health services and their families.