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Mental health patients sent long distances for care ‘endemic NHS practice’

Medics said being sent far away for care can hamper care and recovery.

The practice of sending mental health patients far away from friends and family to receive care has become endemic in the NHS, leading doctors warned as new figures show a rise in the number of patients sent miles away.

Some are even receiving care hundreds of miles away, the British Medical Association (BMA) said.

Ministers have pledged to eliminate “inappropriate out-of-area placements” for mental health patients by 2020/21, but new BMA figures show a rise in patients being sent out of area for treatment.

Medics said being sent far away for care can hamper care and recovery.

It means that patients can often be far away from their support network – with BMA chairman of council Dr Mark Porter describing how parents of a young man travelled for seven hours just to spend an hour with their son.

The union made Freedom of Information requests to health bodies in England to discover the number of mental health patients that has been sent out of area for care for the three years from 2014/15.

It found that the number of out-of-area placements increased from 4,213 adults in 2014/15 to 5,876 in 2016/17 – a rise of 39%.

“The practice of sending patients with severe mental health problems to beds hundreds of miles away from their home and families has become endemic in the NHS,” said NHS consultant psychiatrist and mental health policy lead of the BMA’s consultants committee Dr Andrew Molodynski.

“The Government needs to get a handle on this situation because patients are being routinely failed by a system at breaking point, with tragic consequences.

“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.”

BMA council chairman Dr Porter told delegates on Monday that Government ambitions to put mental health care on par with physical healthcare is a “very distant prospect”.

He said: “If your patient has mental rather than physical health needs, the situation is even worse.

“Thousands are shuttled around the country because of a chronic lack of beds. Isolated from their friends and family at their most vulnerable time. Some have to languish in police cells for their own safety, while their clinical staff scour the country for placements and transport.

“Their care suffers when communication breaks down between hospitals, and when they are so far from home. Like the young man whose parents had one day off a week to visit him, and spent seven hours on the road for one precious hour in his company.

“He suffered. Any of us would suffer in those circumstances.”

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “Of course it is completely unacceptable for patients to be sent hundreds of miles away from their family and friends for treatment – but that is exactly why we’ve committed to end inappropriate placements by 2020.

“We were the first country in the world to legislate for parity of esteem and we’re going to make sure it happens by reforming outdated mental health laws and with waiting time targets to improve standards of care.”

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