Health

Mental health beds search 'a scandal'

Hospital sign Image copyright SPL

The practice of sending mentally ill adults in England long distances for care is unacceptable and must end, a report by experts says.

The Independent Commission, chaired by ex-NHS chief executive Lord Crisp, said some cases were potentially dangerous.

Some 500 patients travel more than 50km (31 miles) to access care each month - as acute inpatient beds or services are unavailable in their areas, it said.

The government has asked the NHS to cut unnecessary out-of-area treatments.

The report, which is backed by the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP), recommends changes to how services are commissioned.

It says that, from October 2017, no acutely ill patient should have to travel long distances to receive care.

At the same time, a maximum four-hour wait for acute psychiatric care - in hospital or the community after an initial assessment - should be introduced, it says.

The aim is to guarantee that patients with mental health problems are treated equally to those with physical problems.

Crisis bed management

President of the RCP, Prof Sir Simon Wessely, said: "Everyone agrees that it is a scandal that patients with serious mental disorders who need admission can end up being sent anywhere from Cornwall to Cumbria in a search for a bed. And yet it continues.

"The answers lie not in just providing more beds, although there are definitely places where that might help in the short term, but assessing the entire system."

The report, led by former chief executive of NHS England, Lord Nigel Crisp, said access to acute care for severely ill adult mental health patients was inadequate nationally and, in some cases, potentially dangerous.

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Media caption"It made the whole process of being admitted much more scary"

The most common problem, it said, was difficulty in finding a bed for a patient in need - and the problem that posed to patients and the public if someone needing inpatient care was not admitted.

The declining bed numbers along with increased demand had made the situation worse, it said.

The Commission said crisis bed management was a daily occurrence in some trusts, with staff trying to free up beds by moving patients from ward to ward, sending them home on leave, or discharging them earlier than planned.

Other patients were asked to travel "unacceptably long distances" to find a bed, it said.

'Breaking point'

Minister for Mental Health, Alistair Burt, said the report would help to shape planned changes to build a better mental health service.

"NHS England will soon be publishing its independent Mental Health Taskforce report, backed by the £1bn investment announced by the prime minister earlier this year."

Mental health charities said more investment was long overdue.

Brian Dow of Rethink Mental Illness said: "Unfortunately continuous cuts to mental health care funding have left too many services pushed to breaking point.

"Mental health remains a neglected service."

In 2013/14, 1.7 million people in England used mental health services, with 105,270 admitted to hospital.

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