The dangerous practice of sending people with a mental illness hundreds of miles away from home for weeks at a time continues in England, according to new analysis published by the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
Despite Government pledges to end the shameful practice, known as inappropriate out of area placements, by March 2021, almost 206,000 days have been spent by patients out of area in the 12 months since the deadline passed.
Being far away from home, with friends and family not being able to visit, can leave patients feeling extremely isolated and emotionally distressed with devastating, long-lasting consequences for their mental health.
Not only that, but it comes at a huge cost to the NHS. The health service spent £102 million on inappropriate out of area placements last year – the equivalent to the cost of the annual salary of over 900 consultant psychiatrists.
Zero tolerance approach
The Royal College of Psychiatrists is calling on the NHS to adopt a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to inappropriate out of area placements and to take urgent action to ensure all patients get the care they need from properly staffed, specialist services in their local area.
Dr Adrian James, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said:
“The failure to eliminate inappropriate out of area placements is a scandal. It is inhumane and is costing the NHS millions of pounds each year that could be spent helping patients get better.
“No one with a mental illness should have to travel hundreds of miles away from home to get the treatment they desperately need. The health and social care system, both on a national and local level, must urgently come together and make sure no one ever has to.
“We need to understand what is driving this unacceptable practice in different parts of the country and invest in local, properly staffed beds, alternatives to admission, and follow-up care in the community. Central to this is government backing to address the workforce crisis that continues to plague mental health services.”
'A really serious issue'
Watch Dr Adrian James talk more about this issue:
Detrimental impact of out of area placements
In the 2021/22 financial year, the number of days spent inappropriately out of area was 205,990. 71% of placements that ended over that time, lasted for 15 or more nights, while 40% lasted for 31 or more nights.
The 2016 Crisp Commission highlighted the hugely detrimental impact out of area placements can have on patients, and how public funds are wasted on these expensive placements, prompting the government commitment to eliminate the practice within five years.
Out of area placements continue because there aren’t enough properly staffed beds, or alternative specialist intensive provision, locally. The expansion of community services as part of the NHS Long Term Plan will help reduce the number of people requiring inpatient admission by offering more intensive support in the community.
- Read our detailed new analysis on the complex problem of inappropriate out of area placements.
- Read Simon's disorientating experience of being separated from his family