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Thousands of mental health patients forced to travel to find a bed

More than 2,000 mental health patients had to travel outside their local region for an inpatient bed in May, according to new data by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC).

The figures – made public for the first time – showed that 2,107 mental illness sufferers were assigned a bed at a provider that was not the usual provider for their local CCG.

Furthermore, 266 patients had to travel more than 20km, while 465 people were forced to travel more than 50km.

The use of out-of-area placements has increased in recent years, with nearly 4,000 mental health patients even being detained in police cells as a result of a shortage of inpatient beds.

In February, NHE reported that a lack of acute beds available to young mental health patients had “left the system at breaking point”, leading to NHS England issuing advice to hospital trusts to adopt ‘emergency procedures’.

As a result, the Royal College of Psychiatrists set up an inquiry into the provision of acute inpatient psychiatric care for adults.

It said at the time: “There is evidence – some quantified, some anecdotal – of difficulties in admissions, variable services for patients in the community, long-distance transfers of patients, high occupancy rates and high stress levels amongst patients, their families, carers and staff.”

More than 400 adults with acute mental health problems at the time were forced to seek treatment at hospitals more than 50km away.

The then care minister, Lib Dem MP Norman Lamb, who requested the figures, ordered Monitor, NHS England and the Trust Development Authority to analyse the data quickly to establish the cause of the problem.

He told the Guardian at the time: “This is something I have been pursuing for the last six months or so. It has been quite frustrating, but we are now making progress.

“It is a commissioning problem – they have not commissioned enough beds or enough crisis support at home – or is it an organisational problem with trusts? By understanding the issue, we can then start to tackle it.”

Most recently, the Crisp Commission found that delayed discharges, unsuitable living conditions and inappropriate services were also behind excessive bed shortages for mental health patients.


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