The region’s mental health trust has been criticised for a “shocking” lack of beds as data revealed a fresh rise in patients being sent out of the area for treatment.

Figures published by the region’s mental health trust - branded the worst in England - uncovered yet another rise in patients being sent out of the county for care.

Adult OAP patients spent a total of 869 days in “inappropriate” out of area beds in March 2020.

It is an almost four-fold rise since January this year, which was the only time the trust hit its target for these out of area placements since the start of 2019.

It comes just months ahead of the government’s 2021 deadline for stopping all out of area mental health placements, and follows a litany of broken promises from the trust to cease the practice.

Eastern Daily Press: Stuart Richardson, NSFT chief operating officer. Picture: NSFTStuart Richardson, NSFT chief operating officer. Picture: NSFT (Image: Archant)

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Campaigners have repeatedly highlighted the tragic impact of on patients, including the shock death of 81-year-old Peggy Copeman, who died on the M11 after being sent to Somerset.

And some patients have been kept in police cells for longer periods due to a lack of beds.

A spokesman for the Campaign to Save Mental Health Services said: “The lack of beds at NSFT remains shocking, more than six years since they promised the practice of shipping people in crisis across the country would stop and less than a year from the deadline from NHS England for this practice to stop.”

It comes after the trust was criticised for discussing a report into its staff culture, described as “an environment characterised by bullying”, during a private meeting which should have been open to the public.

UNISON Eastern regional organiser Peter Passingham said: “Staff know only too well about the serious cultural issues around bullying in the trust. We have been raising this for many years but despite good intentions there seems to have been little meaningful change for staff bearing the brunt of this culture.”

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An NSFT spokeswoman said: “There has been longstanding cultural issues in NSFT, and we have worked hard with our staff to address some of these.

“Our recent CQC report noted early improvements in the engagement of our staff and this paper is outlining our approach to continue this improvement as we go forward.”

Pledges to end the out of area beds scandal have been made - and broken - repeatedly in the past.

Health bosses pledged to stop sending patients out of area in January 2014 within four months.

But the goal was not achieved and the trust set itself a new target of ending the practice by October 2017.

That aim was later adjusted to the “more realistic” date of March 2018 - and missed again.

READ MORE: Mental health patients in ‘acute distress’ STILL sent miles away five years after pledge to end practice

Now national targets have demanded all services cease all out of area placements by 2021

However, in the latest round of figures, published in the trust’s board papers, NSFT excluded 16 private beds at Southern Hills private clinic in Mundesley from its data - which would have added a further 480 bed days to its total.

Daryl Chapman, director of finance, stated in his report to the board: “Being local and within county, Southern Hills enables patients from Norfolk and Waveney to maintain contact with care teams and families.

“These beds are not considered as inappropriate out of area due to the close county links and the ability to maintain connection with care teams and families.”

Mr Chapman’s report also stated that the trust was almost 600 days above its target for inappropriate OAP out of area beds in March 2020.

“No one factor has stood out to explain the increase seen since January,” he said.

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“However, increased length of inpatient stays on NSFT inpatient wards linked to increased delayed transfers of care and higher acuity in the community were contributing factors.”

The campaign spokesperson said: “Until now, NSFT has always counted beds it commissions at private hospital Southern Hills as inappropriate out of area beds.

“Now it has decided they are not.”

They added: “It is this type of attempt to manipulate information to mislead the public, excluded from the most recent public board meeting, which continues to erode trust in NSFT.

“We and front line clinicians remain deeply concerned that admissions are delayed or prevented because of management pressure to keep out of area bed numbers down and that people are being discharged extremely unwell.”

The trust were contacted for a response to the campaign’s concerns but did not issue any further statement.

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