AN NHS trust in Dorset has spent more than a million pounds sending mental health patients hundreds of miles away for treatment when there were no beds for them locally.

Figures from the NHS show that between June 2017 and May 2018, the Dorset Healthcare University NHS Foundation Trust placed patients with acute mental health needs in inappropriate Out of Area Placements (OAPs) on approximately 95 occasions.

An inappropriate placement is where a patient is admitted for treatment at a facility outside of their usual local network of mental health services because there are no beds available locally.

The mental health charity Mind says the impact of being far away from home on a patient's mental health "cannot be overstated" and could even increase the risk of suicide.

Some of the patients sent away by the Dorset Healthcare University NHS Foundation Trust had to travel more than 180 miles to places as far as Sussex, London and Manchester.

The trust racked up a bill of around £1,094,000 over the 12 months to May paying for the care of patients on inappropriate placements, including the cost of additional ongoing placements that began prior to June 2017.

In May, the majority of the facilities that received patients from the trust were privately operated.

Dr John Lister, co-chair of campaign group Keep Our NHS Public said a "cash squeeze" had left NHS trusts under pressure to reduce frontline mental health services.

"The private sector are quite willingly cashing in on the gaps left in the NHS," he said.

"These are expensive beds and they are poor value for money, as private providers have an incentive to keep patients in longer.

"This is a significant problem and it continues to be very worrying."

The Government has pledged to eliminate inappropriate out of area placements for adults with acute mental health needs by 2020-21, and Mind says this "can't happen soon enough".

However, in the 12 months to May, there were still around 8,285 new inappropriate placements made across England.

Patients on inappropriate placements spent a combined total of 222,000 days in facilities away from their homes during this time, the vast majority of which were privately run.

Geoff Heyes, head of health policy and influencing at Mind, said: "When you’re experiencing a mental health crisis, you’re likely to feel scared, vulnerable and alone, so your support network of family and friends are instrumental to recovery.

"It’s unacceptable that people who are at their most unwell and in desperate need of care find themselves travelling across the country to get help because there’s a shortage of beds nearby.

"The quality of care you get, and how likely you are to respond to treatment, shouldn’t depend on where you live."

In response, Colin Hicks, Dorset HealthCare’s Service Director for Mental Health and Learning Disabilities, said: “We are committed to reducing the need for out of area beds and these are only used as a last resort, either when we are at full capacity or when an individual has very complex needs and requires specialist care not available within Dorset.

"We are also expanding local capacity to minimise the need for out-of-area care. A review of Dorset’s acute mental health system last year highlighted the need for additional adult mental health beds within the county.

"We are also providing more support for people in the community."


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