Thousands of patients forced to travel far from home for NHS mental health treatment

Rachel Bannister's teenage daughter was diagnosed with an eating disorder

Thousands of people are forced to travel tens or even hundreds of miles to access mental health treatment on the NHS, because beds are not available locally.

In May alone, there were 575 “inappropriate out-of-area mental health placements” in England.

More than three-fifths of patients (62%) had to travel more than 60 miles from home, according to analysis of the latest NHS Digital data by the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

And 50% of placements lasted more than 31 days, a record percentage.

Rachel Bannister’s daughter was diagnosed with an eating disorder in 2013 and was sent to several far-flung hospitals over the next three years, including one in Scotland, hundreds of miles from the family home in Nottingham.

He was there for six months, including Christmas.

“She would call me and say, ‘Mum, I just want you to pick me up and take me for a walk in the park or give me a hug,'” Rachel told Sky News.

“She was 300 miles away in Scotland when she said that, and it broke me.”

Seeing her daughter go was also painful, Rachel said: “The trauma of that initial separation when your child is ripped from the heart of your family, you feel like you’ve failed them.”

Rachel Bannister says she felt like she had failed her daughter

Missed deadlines

The government set what it described as a “national ambition” to eliminate inappropriate out-of-area placements by 2020-21.

But that time has long passed and little progress is being made.

In the 12 months since the deadline was missed, 4,180 new out-of-area placements have been recorded.

Pressures related to COVID, including bed closures for infection control and staff absences, are said to have contributed to the ongoing problems.

Doctors say it is “heartbreaking” to have to tell patients they will be sent away.

It’s an issue to which the Royal Society of Psychiatrists takes a “zero tolerance” approach.

“These placements are bad for patients, for their family and loved ones, and for the exchequer,” said university dean Subodh Dave.

“What we want is an end to these inappropriate out-of-area placements and better funding for mental health services both pre- and post-admission to support crisis teams to support rehabilitation efforts.”

There are some circumstances when out-of-area care is the best option for a patient.

They may need specialized services that their local hospital cannot provide, or they may choose to be treated in a different area to be closer to their family.

The Department of Health and Social Care said in a statement: “Everyone should have access to safe and appropriate mental health care and we recognize the impact that receiving care away from loved ones can have.

“That’s why we’re investing an extra £2.3 billion a year to transform NHS mental health services by 2024, meaning more people can get care as close to home as possible.”

Rachel Bannister is now campaigning for better funded NHS services through her charity: Mental Health Foundation – Action Time.

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