Fresh calls for mental health trust to end 'terrifying' out of area care
- Credit: Ruby Blyth-Smith
The region's mental health trust has once again come under fire for still sending large amounts of patients out of Norfolk.
Patients with experience of being sent hundreds of miles for treatment said it was "terrifying" and disheartening" that out of area placements continue years after their own experiences.
In November, 52 patients spent 466 days out of area, despite repeated promised by the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust to keep people closer to home and a national target across England to eliminate placements by this year.
Ruby Blyth-Smith, 25, was sent 185 miles away from Norwich to Harrogate, when she was 21.
Miss Blyth-Smith, who has since moved from Norwich to Colchester, is blind and needed to be admitted for treatment with her guide dog when she suffered mania and depression as a result of her bipolar disorder.
The former UEA student spent three-and-a-half weeks in the private hospital. She required hospital treatment two more times, transported from Norwich to King's Lynn, and to Royston in Cambridge.
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She said: "It was terrifying. The only thing that kept me going was that my mum managed to stay nearby. It cost her alot of money for the duration I was there.
"It's hugely disheartening it is still happening. Going to hospital is hard enough."
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In November, NSFT apologised after 73-year-old Kathleen Cantell from Great Yarmouth was sent 240 miles away for treatment in Darlington where she caught coronavirus.
In December 2019, Peggy Copeman, 81, died at the side of M11 while being transported back to Norfolk, after being sent out of area due to lack of beds.
Her grieving son, Nick Fulcher, said: "It's empty promises. You do not send the illest patients away.
"You would not send a patient who needs a heart operation up to Doncaster or down to Devon - why do it with mental health patients?"
Steven Downes, 47, from Norwich, was sent to a private hospital in south-west London during a mental health crisis in August 2015, and said the practice must stop.
The Archant Norfolk news editor said: "It was a frightening and isolating experience. At a time when I needed them the most, I was taken five hours' drive from my loved ones, to a place that had doors and windows that would have looked fine in a prison.
"To hear that, after years of promises to end the practice, numerous vulnerable people are still being sent out of Norfolk when in the midst of a crisis, makes me both angry and alarmed."
The matter was discussed by NSFT's board members at a meeting on Thursday.
Stuart Richardson, chief operating officer, told the trust's board that out of area placements continued to be a challenge despite access to private beds for Norfolk patients, but reiterated the arrival of new beds in mid-February.
He said: "Our focus is that when that does happen people can come back closer to home as quickly and as clinically appropriate as possible.
"We are seeing that the numbers are beginning to decrease again but we are really mindful this is a daily balancing act of the people who need to come into our acute beds and also the system as a whole."
Labour's Clive Lewis, MP for Norwich South, said after six years there are still too few local mental health beds and a total systemic failure.
He said: "The knock-on of that is patients routinely discharged before they've fully recovered. Local health managers continually blame each other while going round and round a revolving door of reward-for-failure as the government evades its responsibility by pointing at 'local failures'.
"What will it take for various protagonists in this seemingly neverending tragic farce to face up to that simple and obvious fact? Unless they do, there will continue to be hundreds of other terrified and ill people sent hundreds of miles away from their families."