Mental health cuts see ‘unforgiveable’ surge in Camden patients forced to travel for care

Highgate Mental Health Centre, which is run by C&I

Highgate Mental Health Centre, which is run by C&I - Credit: Archant

A surge in the number of mentally ill people in Camden forced to travel hundreds of miles from their home for care has been condemned by the chief executive of a leading national charity as “unforgiveable and shocking”.

Marjorie Wallace of SANE described the rise in out-of-area care as 'unforgiveable'

Marjorie Wallace of SANE described the rise in out-of-area care as 'unforgiveable' - Credit: Archant

Figures released this week show a trebling of the number of patients treated by the borough’s largest mental health provider that had to be sent away to another part of the country due to a lack of beds.

The practice of out-of-area care is widely considered to be distressing for patients and financially costly.

The figures – some provided to Community Care magazine and others to the Ham&High – showed that in 2011/12, Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust (C&I) sent 89 patients out of the local area for treatment.

In 2013/14, this figure jumped to 154 patients and by 2014/15 it had soared to 338. Some mentally ill patients have had to travel as far away as Somerset for treatment.

The rise coincides with a decision made by management at the cash-strapped trust to cut its bed numbers by almost a fifth between 2011 and 2014 – the second highest proportion out of all mental health trusts in the country. It also cut about a fifth of its nurses, the highest proportion in the country.

C&I has always insisted its beds were lying empty when the cuts were made and had previously blamed the spike in out-of-area care as a result of an “unexpected surge in demand”.

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This week, it told the Ham&High this past year’s spike was mainly due to ward refurbishment works.

The chief executive of one of the UK’s leading mental health charities described the organisation’s approach as “unforgiveable”.

Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of Sane and a Highgate Village resident, said: “It’s absolutely shocking that C&I, knowing full well the impact the brutal bed closures would have on patients, should have continued not to replace those beds and instead send people at their most vulnerable hundreds of miles out of the area.

“It’s not only an unacceptable financial expense but a severe expense on the mental health of patients.

“C&I’s excuse at the time of closures was that beds were being underused, but that’s because they weren’t staffed. What’s also unforgiveable is their failure to predict the growing need in an inner-city area like this.

“We hear stories on a daily basis of mentally ill people, including children and adolescents, being sent out around the countryside to unfamiliar units where they know neither the staff nor other patients and can’t be visited by their family. And this is while they are already feeling alone and rejected. It’s just unforgiveable.”

A spokesman for C&I said: “There are a number of reasons why our out of area placements are much higher than we would normally expect. The main reason is that we have been going through a major ward refurbishment programme. The programme began in the autumn of 2014 and has meant that our number of beds available has been reduced, meaning that alternative beds have been used. We have also seen a significant rise in new patients.

“The safety of our patients is paramount, and using alternative beds has been a necessity.

“Together with our commissioners we have been addressing the influx of new service users, and we continue to treat people effectively in the community, and with our refurbishment programme completing in spring 2016, we fully expect our out of area placements to decrease significantly.

“The combination of these factors has meant therefore that we have had to use alternative beds.”