Bed shortage means dozens of mental health patients are still being sent miles from Norfolk and Suffolk for treatment - three years after pledge
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The region's mental health trust is set to spend nearly £3m more than budgeted on treating patients at other facilities this year, this newspaper can reveal.
Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) has since April 2016 seen a large rise in the number of 'bed days' spent by patients either outside the two counties, or at private providers such as Mundesley Hospital.
In April just 26 days were spent by NSFT patients at hospitals outside Norfolk and Suffolk, but by the end of December the number rose to 398.
That has cost the trust an extra £1.9m so far this year.
In January 2014, the NSFT and health commissioners set themselves a four month deadline to stop sending mental health patients out of the area for treatment. In some cases patients are sent hundreds of miles from friends and family because there are not enough beds in East Anglia.
But three years later, the problem remains.
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Currently there are 14 NSFT patients receiving medical care outside Norfolk and Suffolk, while 19 are being treated at private providers across the two counties.
Some of those 19 are at Mundesley Hospital - despite the hospital being placed in special measures and rated 'inadequate' for safety.
Debbie White, director of operations at NSFT, said she had been 'reassured' that the safety of patients is not at risk, and that improvements are being made.
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She said the rise in out-of-area bed days since April was down to a local provider making fewer beds available.
Meanwhile last month a mental health patient was sent 220 miles away for treatment.
The exact location of their treatment has not been revealed.
A year ago House of Lords peer Lord Crisp published a Royal College of Psychiatrists-backed report which called for an end to sending mental health patients long distances for non-specialist treatment by October this year.
NSFT today said its staff are working 'incredibly hard' to reduce the number of patients sent out of area.
The trust expects a review of all its beds to be completed next month and it has also reopened a crisis assessment ward where more beds are available.
And a reduction has been achieved so far this year compared to 2015/16 - with 95 patients sent out of area between April and January this year compared to 144 patients last year.
But Ms White said this number remained too high.
'If an individual is in crisis and an inpatient bed is the safest option for them - and on the given day local beds are full - it is in their best interest to receive a bed elsewhere, rather than remain a risk at home.
'It is a fact that pressures on local beds remains high, as we see in all areas of NHS care.'
She said the trust was experiencing an increase in the number of delayed patient discharges, due to packages of care not being ready yet in the community.
She said 25 beds are currently occupied by mental health patients who are medically fit for discharge but unable to leave because of this, and a further 66 patients are also at risk of being delayed.
Campaigners call for more beds locally
There is an 'obvious' need for more beds locally, according to the Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk campaign group.
Referring to the NSFT's ongoing bed review, a spokesman for the group said: 'We remain deeply concerned about the expensive and late bed review.
'It is obvious to professionals, service users, and carers that NSFT needs more beds and greater investment in community teams - but both commissioners and the NSFT board are unwilling to accept the reality of the crisis in mental health services.'
This financial year the NSFT budgeted to spend £1m on out-of-trust treatment, yet forecasts from its January board papers now predict spending £3.9m by March.
'Every year for the last four years NSFT has ignored the demand for beds, set an unrealistic budget and blown it,' the spokesman added.
'The money could have been spent on building the NHS's capacity rather than sending people away from their families.'
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