Revealed: 280 mental health patients sent out of East Anglia because of lack of beds

Kirsten Cunningham, 16, with her mother Claire Cunningham.

Kirsten Cunningham, 16, with her mother Claire Cunningham. - Credit: Archant

Today the EDP reveals the full extent of the scandal of mental health patients being sent out of East Anglia for treatment.

Michael Scott CEO of the Norfolk and Suffolk FoundationTrust. Photo: Steve Adams

Michael Scott CEO of the Norfolk and Suffolk FoundationTrust. Photo: Steve Adams - Credit: Archant

Our investigation shows the number of patients taken away from their families and environments has rocketed in the past five years, costing the region's struggling mental health trust millions of pounds.

Patients have been sent as far away as Weston-super-Mare, Manchester, Bradford and Darlington to receive care, due to a lack of beds and services in this region.

MPs slammed the practice, and the trust said it was bringing the number down this year. It comes just days after more than 250 people marched through Norwich calling for better mental health services locally.

The family of a teenage girl who has spent more than three years passed around in secure mental-health units hundreds of miles from Norfolk today appealed for treatment to be offered closer to home.

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Kirsten Cunningham, 16, of Fakenham, battles daily with anorexia, self-harming, and other mental health problems, and is forced to endure treatment in Northampton, simply because there is nowhere closer for her to receive help.

Her story is told as the EDP reveals the number of patients from Norfolk and Waveney sent out of East Anglia for treatment has nearly quadrupled in the last four years.

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And, despite the well-documented impact to recovery, patients last year were sent to locations as far away as Manchester, Bradford, Bristol, Weston-super-Mare and Brighton, costing the region's mental-health trust millions of pounds.

The practice places an equal strain on the patients' family and friends, who are forced to spend thousands of pounds and long hours travelling to visit their loved one.

Campaigners and MPs are calling for more beds to open locally, while ending out-of-area treatment is one of ten points in the EDP's manifesto in our Mental Health Watch campaign.

Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) insisted reducing out-of-area treatment was a 'key priority' and said the number of patients outside Norfolk and Suffolk was down by 43pc so far this year compared to the same period last year.

Figures obtained by the EDP under the Freedom of Information Act show 279 patients were sent out-of-area for treatment in 2014/15, rising 272pc from 79 in 2010/11.

The trust spent £4.3m alone last year on the practice, the figures show.

It means hundreds of patients such as Kirsten are treated in unfamiliar environments far from the comforts of their families, at a time when they are at their lowest ebb.

Some of the places people have been sent to for specialists treatment include Manchester, Bradford, Bristol, Brighton, London, Altrincham, Harrogate, Stafford, Nottingham, Weston-super-Mare, Southampton and Woking.

During three-and-a-half years, Kirsten has been treated in various London units, Colchester, and, currently, Northampton

Claire Cunningham, her mother, said: 'I am really exasperated at the way my daughter has been treated and moved from pillar to post, always 100 miles or more from home.

'This is our daughter and we love her very much. It's beyond a joke. I think she would recover much faster if she was nearer her home.'

Commenting on the out-of-area figures, NSFT chief executive Michael Scott said: 'As has been seen in other NHS trusts nationally, demand for inpatient beds and, in fact, all mental-health services has steadily increased over the past five years.

'And yet funding to support mental-health services has not always followed at the same rate, as for other areas of healthcare.

'We do not want to send any patient who requires a bed out of area. We understand how distressing this can be for the person and for those close to them, especially at a vulnerable time.

'We aim to offer a bed within our own trust, but if all of our beds are full we will seek a bed in a neighbouring county, before looking nationally.

'They would go as far as Yorkshire if that were the only bed available.

'When a patient does need to go to a bed further afield we do everything we can to return them as close to home as soon as possible.'

•Have you been treated out-of-area for mental health illness? Email our health correspondent at nicholas.carding@archant.co.uk

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