Mental health trust spends more than £13m on sending patients outside of Norfolk and Suffolk

A protestor spells out his views on NHS cost-cutting.

A protestor spells out his views on NHS cost-cutting. - Credit: Eastern Daily Press � 2012

A mental health trust, which has been criticised for cutting bed numbers in Norfolk and Suffolk, spent more than £13m on inpatient placements outside of the two counties over the last three years.

Number of patients placed in inpatient beds outside of Norfolk and Suffolk.

Number of patients placed in inpatient beds outside of Norfolk and Suffolk. - Credit: Archant

The number of Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) patients being sent to institutions outside of the trust jumped from 77 in 2011/2012 to 117 in 2012/13, according to figures obtained under a Freedom of Information (FoI) request.

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Officials from the mental health trust said they had received a surge in demand for acute beds. However, they said the number of out-of-area placements only represented a small proportion of admissions.

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The NHS trust is planning to cut bed numbers by 20% over the next three years as part of a radical redesign of services and a more community focussed care model. However, critics said the new figures obtained by the EDP under a FoI request revealed that the mental health trust did not have enough acute beds to cope with demand.

In the last financial year, Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust spent £5.3m on 117 out-of-area placements, of which 66 were specialised placements.

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The trust spent £3.8m in 2011/2012 on a total of 77 patients being placed in beds outside of Norfolk and Suffolk, of which 71 were specialised placements. And during 2010/11, the trust placed 74 patients out of the area, of which 67 were specialised placements, costing £3.9m.

Between April and September this year, the trust has sent 33 patients to psychiatric intensive care or acute wards outside of Norfolk and Suffolk and four on specialist placements.

Bob Blizzard, prospective parliamentary candidate for Waveney, said he feared that the situation would get worse if proposals to cut the number of adult acute beds in Great Yarmouth and Waveney from 42 to 20 went ahead.

'It proves that cutting beds is simply wrong and that to cut where there are proposals in Great Yarmouth and Waveney to reduce the number of beds by more than half is reckless. It flies in the face of evidence. I am being told by whistleblowers working in this establishment that they are full and over run and they are always struggling to fund beds and this matches the anecdotal evidence,' he said.

Officials from NSFT said it was common for mental health trusts to use out-of-area placements for people who require highly specialised treatments that are only available regionally or nationally like specialist mother and baby units or brain injury units.

Kathy Chapman, director of operations for Norfolk, said the number of out-of-area placements had been constant over the past three years.

'In common with many mental health trusts in England, we have seen increase in 2012/13 and 2013/14 in the demand for acute beds and the number of out-of-area acute placements. Out-of-area placements represent a very small proportion (less than 5%) of our admissions but it is something we are working to avoid by implementing increased community services.'

'The trust is committed to providing mental health care within the community and providing alternatives to admission, as well as planning to further reduce delayed discharges from our beds by working in partnership with health care agencies,' she said.

Terry Skyrme, a mental health social worker from the NSFT Crisis Team, added that patients were being admitted to private hospitals hundreds of miles from Norfolk.

'People who are acutely unwell with psychotic illnesses are having to wait days to be admitted, and this applies even to patients needing to be detained under the Mental Health Act because of risk to their own safety.

'There is an excellent, accessible service that helps people in an acute, suicidal state. It is called the Maytree Sanctuary and it offers four days' respite care, free of charge, to people in a suicidal crisis. Unfortunately, it is not in Norfolk, but in Finsbury Park, London.

'Our team has used this service and taken people from Norfolk, all the way to London. Suicide can be prevented, but resources are needed to do so. Why doesn't the trust initiate a project with other fund-holders and voluntary organisations to set up such a service in Norfolk?'

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