Suffolk’s mental health patients ‘anxious’ after being sent miles from home for treatment

Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust's chief medical officer, Dr Dan Dalton says the trust is wo

Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust's chief medical officer, Dr Dan Dalton says the trust is working hard to get patients back closer to home. Picture: ANGELA SHARPE PHOTOGRAPHY - Credit: Angela Sharpe Photography

Mental health patients in Suffolk are voicing their frustration at being sent miles away from home for treatment as the British Medical Association calls for a transformation of the service.

14 vulnerable people are currently being sent out of Suffolk and Norfolk for mental health care, with some patients claiming this has elongated their recovery process.

Patients say there is a detrimental impact of being sent miles away for care - with the British Medical Association stressing the importance of keeping people closer to friends and family.

NSFT has promised since 2014 to stop sending patients out of area for treatment, and its chief officer said the trust is working to make beds available when needed.

The cost of out of area placements for Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) has risen to £7.25m in 2018/19 from £4.5m compared to the same period in 2017/18.

More: Cost of out of care placements soar to £7m as scores sent out of Norfolk and SuffolkWhat do patients think?

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Lisa, from Sudbury, was diagnosed with Schizoaffective disorder at the age of 15 and has been admitted to a number of mental health hospitals across the country.

The 29-year-old, who struggles with mood swings, depression, anxiety and hallucinations, was finally discharged from a mental health ward in Bury St Edmunds last week - after more than two years of recovery.

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In that time she was moved to Benton Hospital in London, Coventry, Bradford and Ipswich, causing her to become "stressed" and "anxious".

Lisa says that being transferred from one hospital to another "didn't help at all" and made her recovery much longer than it needed to be.

NSFT are planning to introduce 16 new adult assessment and inpatient beds on the recently reopened Y

NSFT are planning to introduce 16 new adult assessment and inpatient beds on the recently reopened Yare Ward at Hellesdon Hospital. Picture: GOOGLEMAPS - Credit: Archant

"Being at a hospital near my home means I can see my parents more often," said Lisa. "It also makes me more at ease being in a familiar surrounding."

Lisa said she found it difficult to adjust to the new hospitals and felt she had to start again each time she was moved - with doctors needing to reassess her and her medication.

"It was really difficult and annoying, especially trying to adapt to my new surroundings and being far away from friends and family," said Lisa.

"It was scary."

What the report says

Responding to a report by Rethink Mental Illness and the Royal College of Psychiatrists, which reveals many patients with the most severe mental health problems are effectively "invisible" in the health care system, the BMA is calling for more to be done.

Mental health lead Dr Andrew Molodynski said: "The findings of this report are indeed disturbing and back up the BMA's own research on the practice of sending mental health patients many miles away from home for treatment.

"There are too many vulnerable people who are being let down by the system with substandard treatment in facilities far away from where they live.

"The BMA has long been calling for an end to inappropriate out-of-area placements which can seriously impede recovery, with the added disadvantage of friends and family not being able to visit as often as they ordinarily would.

"We need to see a more integrated approach to tackling this issue and we urge the Government and NHS England to agree to the recommendations of the report and develop a clear timescale for their implementation."

The report states that CCGs and mental health trusts reported that 333 mental health rehabilitation beds

have been decommissioned in the last five years, and there are plans to decommission a further 53.

What effect this has

Liza Moore, a community mental health nurse who lives in Halstead, says it is very important for patients to be near their family in order for continued support.

"It's a good opportunity for the family to understand fully what their loved one is going through," said Liza, who works in Havering, in London.

"If their loved one is miles away from home, it will be logistically harder for the family to visit, attend ward rounds and provide support."

Liza says it is less common for London patients to be sent miles away although it does happen when there are no other beds available.

She says it can also happen if a patient requires specialist treatment and the unit is in a specific location, a service that is not offered commonly.

Community Mental Health Nurse Liza says it is vital for patients to be close to home. Picture: LIZA

Community Mental Health Nurse Liza says it is vital for patients to be close to home. Picture: LIZA MOORE - Credit: LIZA MOORE

Liza said: "There are other times when a patient is far away from home and this may be because they relapsed when they were far from home and so were admitted locally to where they were at the time.

"In circumstances like this the patient is usually transferred to their home area as soon as there is a bed available."

'We work hard to get patients back closer to home' - NSFT

Dr Dan Dalton, chief medical officer of the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust, said the trust is working on a number of initiatives and plans to develop a 'crisis house' in Norfolk.

He said: "Since last spring, we have reduced out-of-trust placements from 71 to 14.*

"We have a dedicated, clinically-led bed management team, who work hard to get patients back closer to home and with the right support as soon as possible.

"The Government has set each Sustainability and Transformation Partnership the target of eliminating inappropriate out of area placements in mental health services for adults in acute inpatient care by 2020/21. We are confident that we can achieve this by working closely with our partner organisations in the two STPs which cover Norfolk and Suffolk.

"We are developing a whole new approach to bed management and more resources are being used to support service users in their own homes and to prevent them from requiring acute inpatient care.

"We are also working with social care and third sector colleagues to improve communications and patient flow to minimise delayed transfers of care.

"In addition, we're working on a number of initiatives to use our inpatient beds more efficiently, which will reduce length of stay and free up beds.

"These include 16 new adult assessment and inpatient beds on the recently reopened Yare Ward at Hellesdon Hospital, and plans to develop a 'crisis house' in Norfolk, aimed at enabling people to access support to prevent a mental health hospital admission and support a rapid return to everyday living."

More: Campaigners slam broken promises after mental health patients sent hundreds of miles away*Statistics up-to-date as of Friday, February 28 2020.

More: Ipswich teenager to become mental health nurse after anorexia battle

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