Shame of mentally ill people in Preston facing long journeys for help

Beds crisis means city's vulnerable forced to travel to other areas for treatment

Friday, 25th June 2021, 3:45 pm

Dozens of seriously mentally ill people were sent miles away for treatment because there were no beds available for them around Preston

Vulnerable people in England are having their recovery jeopardised by having to travel sometimes hundreds of miles away from their home and loved ones to be treated, according to mental health charity Mind.

In the year to March, acutely ill adults spent a combined 2,215 days in non-local facilities due to bed pressures, according to statistics showing that the NHS Greater Preston CCG arranged as many as 45 inappropriate out of area placements in that time.

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Dozens of mentally ill people sent away from Greater Preston for treatment

Placements are considered inappropriate when they are due to a lack of beds locally rather than a specific need to send a patient elsewhere.

The Government pledged to eradicate these placements by the end of March but five acutely ill adults from the area were still being cared for by non-local support services at the end of that month.

Such placements cost the CCG more than £1m over the year, while the average daily cost an out of area bed was £525.

The NHS said the coronavirus pandemic disrupted progress towards meeting the Government target to abolish inappropriate placements by March 2021.

Interruptions to health care meant it was more challenging to keep people well in the community and more difficult to identify signs of escalation or relapse.

And demand on mental health services increased, the NHS said, as more people required help and a higher proportion became acutely ill before being able to access support.

Pressure on inpatient care also worsened as staff absence rates rose and infection control measures led to beds being temporarily closed.

In England there were 670 people being cared for away from their home area at the end of March, with 6,375 inappropriate out of area placements arranged in the year to then.

The associated cost was over £109m and more than 1,000 patients had to travel over 120 miles for care.

Approximately 250 placements lasted longer than 91 days, according to figures rounded to the nearest five.

Almost all - 96 per cent - of the out of area placements active nationally in March were inappropriate.

Mind’s director of external relations, Sophie Corlett said the impact of the coronavirus on mental health meant it was increasingly important to have “the right beds in the right places”.

She said: “The number of these placements is still far too high.

“The effects of people waiting for treatment or being sent far from their loved ones can be devastating particularly for children and young people.

“We need to see robust planning and greater investment in mental health services, so that people can get the help they need, when they need it, close to their home and existing support networks.

“To do this the UK Government must prioritise urgent investment in community mental health services to stop people going into crisis.”

Mark Winstanley, chief executive of charity Rethink Mental Illness said out of area placements were a "huge financial cost" for the NHS and risked delaying the recovery of those sent away from their loved ones and usual support networks.

This year will see the Government invest £1.7bn in mental health services, along with £500m to tackle covid-related pressures.

The NHS said the funding would allow for improvements to community and crisis care services and would support timely hospital discharges, allowing for a reduction in pressure on inpatient services.

An NHS spokeswoman said: “Mental health providers are committed to ending inappropriate out of area placements as soon as possible, and safely for patients.”