NHS commissioners step in over Norfolk’s spending on sending mental health patients elsewhere

A protest march against cuts to mental health services and the Fermoy Unit in King's Lynn last year.

A protest march against cuts to mental health services and the Fermoy Unit in King's Lynn last year. Picture: Matthew Usher. - Credit: Archant

The region's mental health trust is spending so much money on sending patients to beds elsewhere that those controlling the local NHS purse strings have stepped in.

Last year the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT) went £3.5m over budget on sending patients to beds at other facilities, including private hospitals and out of the area.

Its budget for buying beds from other providers is £1m a year.

But it used almost half of that in just one month this year, spending £466,000 in April.

Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), which decide where the NHS budget should be prioritised locally, are now funding the overspend in the beds budget.

But it means all bed placements have to be agreed by the commissioners.

That has prompted accusations from campaigners that accountancy is influencing whether mental health patients get beds or not.

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They blame bed cuts for the NSFT sending so many patients to private hospitals and away from the area.

A spokesman for the Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk said: 'The money currently spent at private hospitals would be better spent on high quality NHS beds here.'

In April patients had to spend a total of 620 bed days elsewhere because the NSFT could not provide a bed - that was up 50pc on the same month last year.

The vast majority of those bed days were at the privately run Mundesley Hospital which is rated 'inadequate' by watchdog the Care Quality Commission.

Apart from Mundesley, patients spent 61 bed days in April in beds elsewhere in the country.

This newspaper has called through our Mental Health Watch campaign to treat patients in NSFT beds rather than sending them out of area.

A spokesperson for the CCGs said: 'During this period CCGs have agreements in place with NSFT with regards to the funding of and process for approval of placements and will ensure that placements are made based on clinical need and guidance.'

A spokesperson for the NSFT said: 'The last thing we want is for local people to have to travel elsewhere for their care as we fully understand the distress this can cause to some patients.

'We are determined to do whatever we can to bring down the number of out-of-area placements.'

The NSFT published a review this month into how it can relieve pressure on mental health beds.

A spokesman for NHS Ipswich and East Suffolk and NHS West Suffolk clinical commissioning groups said: 'There is no mental health bed budget overspend for the east and west Suffolk areas.

'It remains very unusual for a patient with a mental health or learning disability issue to be sent out of county for treatment because of bed capacity issues.

'Commissioning the very best mental health services is a priority for both CCGs and we work with a number of mental health providers including NSFT.

We have increased the mental health budget to £111m for 2017/18, from £103m in 2016/17.'

•The NSFT board is meeting at the King's Centre in Norwich on Thursday at 12.30pm.

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