England

Norfolk and Suffolk mental health patients in beds miles from home

Norfolk and Suffolk's NHS mental health services merged in 2012 and must save £40m over the next four years Image copyright BBC/Laurence Cawley
Image caption Norfolk and Suffolk's NHS mental health services merged in 2012 and must save about £40m over four years

Up to 50 mental health patients in Norfolk and Suffolk had to be sent to other parts of England last week because of a shortage of beds and a shortfall in funding.

In June Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt criticised the "unacceptable" distances Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT) patients had to travel for beds.

The NSFT said the trust was committed to cutting the use of out-of-area beds.

It cut the number from 34 to six by September, but it has gone up to 50.

Image caption Michael Scott, the chief executive of the NSFT, calls for parity of funding between mental health trusts and mainstream hospitals

In July a BBC Freedom of Information request found the number of beds available for sectioned patients at NSFT fell by 93 from April 2011 to a total of 481 in April 2014

While earlier this month it was revealed that mainstream hospitals in the two counties have seen budgets rise by 15% since 2010, while mental health service funding has fallen by 3%.

The BBC has been told that last week NSFT mental health patients were sent as far afield as Darlington, Harrogate, Brighton, Woking, Nottingham and Hemel Hempstead.

OOA patient's story

An NSFT mental health patient, who has asked not to be named, told the BBC that earlier this year she suffered from mental heath problems and was assessed by staff.

It was decided she needed a mental health bed but no bed could be found in Norfolk and Suffolk, so a bed was found for her at a hospital in Nottingham.

She said: "A private ambulance came at 10 o'clock at night to drive me to the hospital. My friends could not come and see me (because of the distance). My husband could not come and see me.

"In the end I discharged myself. I did not want to be so far away from home.

"It made my recovery slower. It was detrimental to my health and my husband's.

"It feels like the NHS has failed me if I can't be seen in my own area and they spend money to send me outside."

Image copyright NSFT
Image caption All the healthcare providers in the region, except NSFT, have seen an increase in funding since 2010, yet mental heath service budgets have been cut (N&N - Norfolk and Norwich Hospital)

Michael Scott, the chief executive of the NSFT, told the BBC: "The numbers of people out of area (OOA) are too high. We have said this for some time.

"It's not good care for people and it's not good for their families. And it's not good use of the scarce money we do have.

"We have made some progress, getting it down to six. But unfortunately, given the pressures we are under, it has gone back up."

Mr Scott said he welcomed government calls for parity of esteem between mental health and acute hospitals, but called for parity of funding to help end the need for OOA beds.

A mental health commission led by former health minister Paul Burstow MP, which included representatives of the NHS, charities and the Royal College of Psychiatrists, found mental health nationally is underfunded by about 10% or £10bn.

Terry O'Shea, from the Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk, said: "When we started the campaign we were astonished there there were 20 OOAs - now there are 50. As well as the extra cost to the trust, there is the personal cost to people sent out of the counties."

A Department of Health spokesman has told the BBC: "We have gone further than ever before to put mental health on a par with physical health and have instructed the NHS to make sure every community does the same."

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