Capacity Problems Cause Mental Health Sufferers to Travel Away from Home

NHS figures suggest chronic problems related to mental health in NHS England.

According to the latest reports from the health service, as many as 2,000 people suffering from mental illnesses are sent miles from their homes every month.

Of those who are forced move, in excess of 25 per cent ultimately travel over 30 miles from their home area.

This latest information came direct from reports compiled by the Social Care Information Centre.

This is a worrying trend as it has been acknowledged that such moves often cause significant distress for both patients and their families.

The data was published by the Observer newspaper after Norman Lamb, the ex-health minister who obtained the figures, passed them to the publication.

“It’s an outrage what happens. We know that out-of-area placements have a link to an increased risk of suicide. This would never, ever happen with a physical health problem, such as a stroke or heart failure. Why should we accept this for someone with acute mental illness, when we wouldn’t accept it for someone with cancer? It’s complete discrimination at the heart of the NHS,” Lamb asserted.

Figures from the records indicate that in April 2,067 people were looked after as inpatients outside the area covered by their local mental health trust.

This had increased to 2,198 by August.

Particularly guilty of this process were health authorities in Devon, Lancashire and Kent and the Medway.

Bed shortages where considered a particular problem in these regions.

Studies conducted previously have indicated that some patients have been sent as far as 370 miles from their homes in extreme circumstances.

Reflecting on the issue, Mind, the mental health charity, suggested that treatments carried out a significant distance from the home of patients can significantly influence the quality and rapidity of recovery.

“Friends and family can form a hugely important support network, so when someone is sent far away it can have a big impact,” said Vicki Nash, head of policy and campaigns at Mind.

“It is concerning enough having a loved one in hospital with a mental health problem, but the extra stress of travelling to see them adds to the strain.”

Although the government has suggested that it will address the situation, admitted cuts to bed numbers are making the situation considerably more complex.

A Department of Health spokesman defendied the policy towards mental health in the NHS.

“An urgent review of out-of-area acute mental health treatment is currently under way, led by [ex-NHS chief executive] Lord Nigel Crisp. Mental health minister Alistair Burt has said that with this review, and consulting with the Mental Health Taskforce, he will announce targets and an ambition to deal with a situation which has been allowed for too long.

We have made it clear that local NHS services must follow our lead by increasing the amount they spend on mental health and making sure that beds are always available.”


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