HUNDREDS of mental health patients in Lancashire are being referred to private hospitals because of a lack of NHS beds in the county.
Figures revealed through a Freedom of Information request show that Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust spent more than £5m with private hospitals in the past two years.
In 2013/14 251 patients were sent to private hospitals at a cost of £3.6m.
This is an increase from 2012/13 when there were 136 referrals at a cost of £2.1m.
Lancashire Care said a number of factors led to the increase, including a reduction in social care provision, an increase in mental health presentations and increased complexity of care requirements.
The Trust said that the national context also needs to be taken in to consideration and said the increase isn’t just isolated to Lancashire.
The majority of spending with private hospitals was with the Priory Hospital in Preston and Cygnet Health Care.
More than £4m was spent with the Priory and £1.2 with Cygnet Health Care.
A spokesperson for Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust said: “Out of area placements are only used when the demand for beds exceeds the available capacity or if a specialist inpatient placement is required due to an individual’s presentation.
“The Trust is working with its commissioners in relation to bed capacity in Lancashire and work is also ongoing to redesign community based services.
“These community services focus on preventing admissions for those individuals who would normally present in crisis and have a short stay in hospital as well as facilitating early discharge for those people who have been admitted to an inpatient bed.
“Before seeking to place a service user in a private bed the Trust would always liaise with neighbouring NHS organisations to ensure there is no other capacity locally.
“The providers that the Trust uses are all regulated by the Care Quality Commission to ensure a high standard of care and environment.
“The service user always remains our main priority and the Trust aims to transfer individuals back into an NHS bed when one becomes available and it is clinically appropriate to do so.”