‘Unacceptable’ - health secretary Jeremy Hunt pledges action on out of area mental health placements in Norfolk and Suffolk

PUBLISHED: 06:30 18 June 2014 | UPDATED: 09:53 20 June 2014

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

The government’s health minister pledged to “do what it takes” to address the pressure on mental health beds after being told of some Norfolk and Suffolk patients having to travel more than 200 miles for a bed.

Jeremy Hunt said it was “unacceptable” that mental health patients were being sent as far as Darlington, Harrogate, Bristol and Brighton for an adult inpatient bed by Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT).

The EDP revealed earlier this month that more than 100 patients in Norfolk and Suffolk were sent out of area in the 2013/14 financial year because no mental health beds were available.

When told about the situation at NSFT, Mr Hunt yesterday said: “I don’t find it acceptable. We have a particular problem with people with acute mental health needs being sent to far away, but we are looking into this and we are very keen to address what the underlying issue, but it is an unacceptable situation.”

Mr Hunt told a press event at the House of Commons that he knew of patients in his own constituency who had been sent far away for a mental health bed.

When pressed on when the crisis might be addressed, Mr Hunt added: “We are coming up with a solution. I don’t promise we are going to solve the entire problem immediately, but we are working with NHS England. I had a discussion with NHS England about it this week and we are certainly going to do what it takes. I recognise the urgency of the situation.”

Officials at NSFT are in the process of cutting bed numbers by 20pc in a bid to make £40m efficiency savings between 2012 and 2016.

However, unions and campaigners have said that the mental health trust’s radical redesign of services is unsafe with patients having to wait too long to see community health workers and not being able to get a bed locally.

Leaders at NSFT have also been criticised for not meeting a pledge to end out of area placements in Norfolk by the end of April.

However, chairman Gary Page said he did not recognise the April deadline, which had been made at a Norfolk Health Overview and Scrutiny committee hearing in January by Clinical Commissioning Groups for central Norfolk.

In an interview with BBC Radio Suffolk, he refused to put a deadline on ending out of area placements.

He said: “We have made very clear that we do not want to be sending patients outside of the trust. It is distressing for them and their family and it does not make financial sense for us as an organisation. We are working very hard with commissioners in Norfolk that we have the right number of beds for the demand that is out there. We have a number of patients ready to be discharged, but do not have anywhere to go. We are absolutely committed to this and it is one of the main operational challenges.”

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