MORE than a thousand mental health patients have been sent to other health boards for treatment in the past three years due to shortages of inpatient beds in their own area.
Patients being treated for eating disorders, bipolar disorder, severe depression and learning disabilities were among the 1007 people moved away from their local area.
In Glasgow, there was an example of a patient being sent 480 miles to Tavistock in Devon, and to parts of London.
It comes after it emerged that NHS Lothian had spent £1.4 million over the past two years sending patients to a mental health clinic in York.
A freedom of information request by the Scottish Conservatives revealed that 295 patients from NHS Highland and 229 from NHS Fife were admitted to an inpatient bed in another health board between April 2014 and the end of March 2017. The figures were lowest in major urban health boards such as NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and NHS Lothian, which referred 17 and 14 mental health patients to beds in other areas.
The statistics showed 334 people were moved in 2014/15, followed by 370 a year later, and 303 last year.
In some cases, patients sent to other health board areas may actually be accommodated in a facility closer to their home depending how close they live to a boundary between two health boards, or they may require specialist intervention not available locally.
However, charities and mental health professionals have repeatedly warned that moving patients too far from their support network of family and friends can be detrimental to their recovery.
Scottish Conservative mental health spokeswoman, Annie Wells, said: “In cases of exceptionally rare and challenging conditions it can make sense for everyone for a patient to go elsewhere for care.
“However, many of the conditions set out here are not rare, and people would expect at least one of their local hospitals to be able to cope with it.”
It comes after Dr John Crichton, the new chair of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Scotland, called in July for a much clearer census on how psychiatric beds were being used and the number of patients who were having to travel too far for their care.
Responding to today’s figures, Dr Crichton said: “These figures will come as no surprise to our members, or to patient organisations who have been telling us for some time that local services do not have the flexibility to respond to fluctuations in demand. It is also worth noting that average figures on bed capacity are not always helpful.
“Patients should only be sent away from their local area for care if it is in their best interests, or in exceptional circumstances. Some patients are best treated at specialist centres, which may be away from their home. “However, these figures appear to show too many people having to travel to get the care they need, which should be available locally. If we are to get a real sense of the issue, we need to move towards a system of regular reporting on how many patients, and from what areas, go to hospitals far away from home.
“It is well recognised that treating patients closer to home can speed up recovery, as well as shorten hospital stays. Ultimately, we want patients to get the care they need in a positive environment, which for most people is close to home with their loved ones nearby.”
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: “The overwhelming majority of mental health treatments are provided within home health boards – the latest mental health census showed just 1.5 per cent of inpatients were seen elsewhere.
“Every effort is taken to minimise out of area placements, and clinical needs and the provision of safe and effective care is always paramount.
“To ensure the necessary provision of very specialist treatments a number of services are provided on a regional and national basis to ensure they are done as safely as possible. In these instances, any patient admitted to these services will be recorded as having transferred from their home board.
“We are committed to investment of £150 million over five years in improving mental health, with additional funding reaching £35 million by 2012 for 800 additional mental health workers in key settings like A&Es, GP surgeries, custody suites, and prisons – ensuring that local provision and support is at the heart of our plans.”
Source : HeraldScotland