Mental health patients in Suffolk and Norfolk are being forced to seek treatment away from home in higher numbers than almost anywhere else in the country, new figures have revealed.
Figures compiled by the British Medical Association (BMA) in response to Freedom of Information requests show a shocking rise in the number of patients being sent out of area for treatment, with the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) named among the four worst offending trusts nationwide.
It sent 359 patients out of area in the first nine months of the 2016-17 financial year – an increase of almost 41 per cent on the entire previous year – forcing them, on average, to make round trip journeys of more than eight hours by public transport and five hours, 10 minutes by car.
The BMA’s findings also revealed the NSFT is spending millions of pounds more on placing patients in out-of-area beds, £2,955,600 more in the same 2016-17 period than all of 2015-16.
Dr Andrew Molodynski, mental health policy lead for the BMA’s consultants committee, said patients are being routinely failed ‘with tragic consequences’.
He added: “Being sent long distances for treatment has an impact on patients’ care and recovery. There have been tragic cases where coroners have ruled that the difficulties families have visiting a relative receiving care, as well as poor communication between hospitals in other regions and local mental health services contributed to deaths.”
A spokeswoman for the NSFT said reducing out of area numbers ‘remains a priority’ for the Trust in order to improve the quality of its services and support its financial sustainability.
She said: “We do not want to send any patient who requires a bed out of area. We understand how distressing this can be for the person and for those close to them, especially at a vulnerable time.
“However, if an individual is in crisis and an inpatient bed is the safest option for them – and on the given day local beds are full – it is in their best interest to receive a bed elsewhere, rather than remain at risk at home.
“If all of our beds are full, we will look to other providers within our local area, such as Mundesley Hospital, in North Norfolk, or in a neighbouring county before looking further afield.”
A spokesman for the NHS Ipswich and East Suffolk and NHS West Suffolk clinical commissioning groups said their out of county placements were ‘rarely’ due to capacity problems but rather because of the specialist needs of individual patients.
He said: “It remains rare for a patient from east or west Suffolk with a mental health or learning disability to be sent out of county for treatment because of bed capacity issues, affecting two patients in 2016/17.
“Each year there is a small number of people who have very specific needs that cannot be delivered in Suffolk and receive treatment out of county in specialist placements to meet their individual needs. In 2016/17, 38 people received treatment out of Suffolk, including those requiring rehabilitation in a more secure setting and those requiring specialist dementia care.
“In such cases it is not possible to commission safe and effective services locally due to the relatively low patient numbers and the need for highly skilled staff. It is better for a patient’s recovery for them to receive treatment in the most appropriate setting. The patient is always returned as close to home as soon as clinically appropriate.”