Hundreds more NHS mental health beds are needed urgently in England to help end the “shameful” practice of sending severely ill patients far from home for treatment, says the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

The practice, known as out-of-area placements (OAPs), happens when there isn’t a local hospital bed for the patient to be admitted to. Allowances are made where this is for highly specialist care.

The Government has pledged to end all inappropriate adult OAPs for acutely ill patients by 2021 but despite intensive efforts progress on reducing that number has stalled.

On July 31, 745 people were being treated inappropriately out of area, official figures show.

The impact on patients and their loved ones can be devastating, causing huge emotional damage and even setting back those patients’ recovery. It can also be challenging for staff.

Some patients are sent hundreds of miles away from home and the College has calculated that those patients travelled a total of approximately 550,000 miles in the past year – equivalent to going around the world 22 times.

The crisis follows years of bed cuts as part of a drive to treat more people with mental illness in the community, close to their family and friends.

With demand for mental health care on the rise, mental health trusts have been caught up in trying to meet immediate demand rather than plan for the future.

While Government plans aim to address this in the long-term, the College wants mental health trusts struggling with high bed-occupancy and inappropriate OAPs levels to be given more properly-staffed beds now as part of a package of measures.

An independent report commissioned by the College, published this week, estimates that 1,060 more mental health beds are needed to reduce bed-occupancy rates to acceptable levels alone.

RCPsych president Professor Wendy Burn said: “Cuts in the number of mental health beds have gone too far and patients and their families are suffering as a result.

“It’s clear that some parts of England urgently need more properly funded and staffed beds. Hundreds more are needed.

“Trusts struggling with dangerously high levels of bed occupancy are being forced to send seriously ill people hundreds of miles away from their homes for care.  That must stop.

“Beds are being closed to move resource to the community so that people can be treated close to friends and family and without having to leave their homes. The RCPsych agrees with that principle. But the reality in many areas is that beds have been lost and investment in community services is only now starting.

“As a result, precisely the opposite effect has been achieved with some severely ill patients sent hundreds of miles for care. We calculate that in total patients in England have been forced to travel 550,000 miles in the past year – or 22 times around the world.

“Steps taken so far to tackle this shameful practice have not worked and that’s why we’re calling for more beds – although of course we recognise this is only part of the solution.

“The NHS is gearing up for winter pressures in emergency departments and more money is rightly found to alleviate these. In mental health services we have year-round pressures and these need to be addressed now.”


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