Charity Rethink Mental Illness said the continued practice across England was disappointing, after the Government had previously committed to ending inappropriate out of area placements by the end of next year.
These placements are defined as a patient admitted for treatment at a facility outside of their usual local network of mental health services because there are no beds available locally.
NHS figures show around 490 patients with mental health needs from the Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust completed placements out of the area between May 2019 and April 2020.
Of these, approximately 45 lasted for 91 nights or more – but the number of placements is rounded, with numbers between one and seven rounded to five.
Patients in NHS Trusts across England spent a combined 241,990 days in facilities away from their homes during this period – a 3% rise on the year before.
Mental health charity Mind said it was unacceptable that people in desperate need are sent across the country for help, and that it is particularly concerning that this number has increased.
Vicki Nash, head of policy and campaigns, said: “When you’re in hospital because of your mental health, you’re likely to feel scared, vulnerable and alone, so your support network of family and friends are key to recovery.
“The impact of being far away from home can’t be overstated – far from being therapeutic, it can negatively affect our mental health and can even increase the risk of us taking our own lives.”
The NHS figures show patients from the Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust spent a combined 20,330 days away from their homes, with some travelling more than 180 miles for treatment.
Charity Rethink Mental Illness said various factors all affect someone’s mental health, including a lack of housing and finances, and any solution to the problem needs to look beyond just treating the illness alone.
Lucy Schonegevel, head of health influencing at the charity, said: “It’s difficult not to feel disappointed by this news, as the government has a target to end out of area placements by the end of 2020-21. This data represents a clear move in the wrong direction.
“If we are to treat people severely affected by mental illness effectively, they must get care close to home in an environment that they are familiar with.
“Sending people hundreds of miles away can have a hugely detrimental effect on their health. It sets off a chain of events in which it takes them longer to get better, cuts them off from local support, and increases the likelihood of relapse.”
The Department for Health and Social Care said the Government is committed to ensuring that patients with mental health conditions can receive treatment as close as possible to where they live, by opening more beds and increasing early intervention community services.
But a spokeswoman said there may be a shift of emphasis as the Government considers the impact of Covid-19 on the needs of the population.
She added: “It is completely unacceptable for mental health patients to be sent far away from their family and friends for treatment and we are committed to ending these inappropriate out-of-area placements by 2020-21.
“We have already made available £12.1 billion to transform mental health services, and, through the NHS Long Term Plan, mental health services will continue to expand further and faster, thanks to a minimum £2.3 billion of extra investment a year by 2023-24.”
A spokesperson for Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust said: “Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust is committed to providing high quality, personal, safe and effective care to everyone in the area. Where possible we always try to admit people to our own inpatient settings to help keep them close to their family, friends or carers whilst ensuring they receive the most appropriate and often highly specialist treatment and care.
“If we don’t have a suitable bed within the Trust area because of high demand or because someone needs particular support that is better provided by another NHS organisation, we will look to support admission somewhere else, even though this might be further away. This is driven by the urgency of care needed as well as the wishes of individuals and their families.
“Health organisations in the area have carried out a significant amount of work and investment over the past 12 months to increase the number of inpatient beds provided across Lancashire and South Cumbria and also to invest in our home treatment team to ensure we are able to support as many people as possible to recover at home with support. This has led to a dramatic reduction in people being admitted outside of our own area. We continue to look at our provision in line with demand and will be again increasing our inpatient bed capacity over the forthcoming months. In addition to this additional investment in both community and inpatient care we are also upgrading our estate to ensure they are Covid-safe and provide the best therapeutic environments for our patients.
“Health organisations across the area will continue to work together to provide high quality and effective care to everyone.”