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'It's scandalous' - Campaigners slam broken promises after mental health patients sent hundreds of miles away

PUBLISHED: 05:30 19 February 2019 | UPDATED: 08:38 19 February 2019

The Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk protesting outside NSFT headquarters Picture: GERALDINE SCOTT

The Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk protesting outside NSFT headquarters Picture: GERALDINE SCOTT

Geraldine Scott

The situation facing Suffolk and Norfolk's struggling mental health trust has been dubbed "scandalous" after it emerged patients in crisis are still being sent hundreds of miles away for treatment.

Stuart Richardson, NSFT chief operating officer. Photo: NSFTStuart Richardson, NSFT chief operating officer. Photo: NSFT

Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT) has pledged to end out of area placements (OAPs) by 2021, but dozens of people were still being sent to hospitals at least 200km (124 miles) away – and five at least 300km (186 miles) away – over a three-month period last year.

Between September 1 and November 30, there were 2,970 ‘inappropriate’ bed days outside the NSFT’s boundaries – treatment that should have been available locally – with placements costing £1.27m in total.

That was up from 1,365 bed days in the same period in 2017.

Campaigners are now criticising what they claim are a string of broken promises.

“It is scandalous that, despite many promises to stop the transportation of people in mental health crisis many miles away from families, friends and professionals they know, the situation has become much worse,” said a spokesman for the Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Suffolk and Norfolk.

“Whether the beds crisis is caused by inadequate beds or failing and under-resourced community teams, what these terrible figures show is that mental health services are under-funded and under-performing.”

Commitments to stop sending patients away for treatment have been made before – in January 2014, NSFT bosses pledged to end OAPs within four months.

This target, and two others with goals of October 2017 and March 2018, were all missed – so a new one was set for 2021 in April last year.

Yet according to the newly published figures, from NHS Digital, the number of NSFT patients moved at least 200km away but under 300km trebled from 10 in September-November 2017 to 30 in the same period last year.

One Suffolk mother, who spoke out in the week health inspectors uncovered a litany of failings at the NSFT in November 2018, said her daughter had been moved to a unit in Bury near Manchester – more than 200 miles away – from February to May last year.

Campaigners added: “It is incredible that 30 people were sent 200km or more from home when they needed support most.

“We know that people have to be really unwell to get an admission to a mental health bed and many of them would not have deteriorated if not for the savage cuts to mental health services.”

‘We consider one out of area placement one too many’ – NSFT

Stuart Richardson, NSFT’s chief operating officer, said in the past two months, no patient has been cared for outside of Suffolk and Norfolk for longer than 28 days.

“We do not want to send any patient who requires a bed out of area and we understand how distressing this can be for the person and for those close to them, especially at a vulnerable time,” he added.

“We consider one out of area placement as one too many and whenever this is unavoidable, we always strive to ensure that patients are treated as close to home as possible, and aim to repatriate them at the first available opportunity.

“A large number of out of area placements are for less than one week and in the past two months no patient has been cared for outside of Norfolk and Suffolk for longer than 28 days.

“The government has set each Sustainability and Transformation Partnership (STP) the target of eliminating inappropriate out of area placements in mental health services for adults in acute inpatient care by 2020/21.

Mr Richardson continued: “We are confident that we can achieve this by working closely with our partner organisations in the two STPs which cover Norfolk and Suffolk.

“One of the reasons why patients sometimes have to be transferred out of area is because of delayed transfers of care – people who are well enough to be discharged from our beds but who require ongoing support from other agencies, such as social care, housing or sheltered accommodation.

“We are working with social care and third sector colleagues to improve communications and patient flow wherever possible in order to minimise delayed transfers of care.

He added: “In addition, we’re working on a number of initiatives to use our inpatient beds more efficiently, which will reduce length of stay and free up beds.

“These include the Red 2 Green project, where each day that a service user spends on the ward is rated as either red or green with a view to keeping red days to a minimum so that every day spent receiving care has a positive impact on recovery.

“More resources are being used to support service users in their own home and to prevent them from requiring acute inpatient care.

“For example, we have recently created an additional 28 community posts and are investing in our crisis resolution home treatment teams.

“CRHTs provide intensive support for people during a mental health crisis, delivering prompt and effective home treatment, including medication, and brief psychological interventions in order to prevent hospital admissions.

“A greater focus on prevention and on providing more support in the community are also common features of the mental health strategies that have been published recently for Norfolk and Waveney, and Suffolk.”

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