NHS England has been forced to send patients who are seriously ill with eating disorders to Scotland owing to drastic bed shortages.
This latest revelation is just the latest indication of the extent of bed-blocking in England.
Vulnerable patients, mainly teenagers and young adults, are being transported for residential care in Glasgow and near Edinburgh; sometimes travelling hundreds of miles.
Mental health experts believe that this worrying trend could increase their sense of isolation for such patients, through the separation from their families.
Jane Smith, chief executive of Anorexia and Bulimia Care, suggested that the problem even increases the risk of such patients dying.
“I’ve seen a rise in calls from people saying their children have been sent far away, miles away, to be looked after because there are either no services nearby or they are full. This is a life-threatening situation for young people. People are in inpatient care because they are at risk of dying. They are in a very fragile, risky state.”
Experts and patients alike generally believe that being sent long distances for surgery compromises care, particularly in relation to communication.
Even Jeremy Hunt has criticised the practice, and has also cited NHS children and adolescent mental health services as the worst area of care within the healthcare system.
“It is clearly unacceptable for people to be sent hundreds of miles away for care at a time when they need the support of friends and family the most”, he said. “That’s why in April we committed to a national ambition to eliminate inappropriate out-of-area placements by 2020-21.”
Hunt has also stated that the government has set aside £150 million for enhanced services in community settings, in an attempt to tackle this problem. to help ensure that mental health problems in young people were tackled before their health worsens, he said.
Sarah Brennan, chief executive of Young Minds, was scathing in her criticism of the practice.
“It’s extremely distressing for parents to have a child who is so unwell that they require inpatient care, and it’s even worse when they can’t easily visit their child because of long travel distances. For many young people the distance from family and friends is one of their biggest fears when they are hospitalised. Being separated from loved ones doesn’t help with recovery and makes the stress of hospitalisation worse.”
NHS England has declined to provide precise numbers on this matter.