The Lib Dem care minister Norman Lamb, who requested the figures, has ordered three NHS bodies – Monitor, NHS England and the Trust Development Authority – to analyse the data as quickly as possible to establish the cause of the problem and look into an apparent shortage of readily available beds for patients in crisis and lack of support for those discharged into their local communities. Lamb told the Guardian: “This is something I have been pursuing for the last six months or so. It has been quite frustrating but we are now making progress. What is fascinating is [the figures] are immensely variable. “Is it a commissioning problem – they have not commissioned enough beds or enough crisis support at home – or is it an organisational problem with trusts? By understanding the issue, we can then start to tackle it. Until now we just haven’t had the data to be able to do that.” He said sending patients long distances to be cared for was unacceptable and a waste of money. Lamb also said his efforts to ensure more hospital beds were closer to where they were needed should not undermine the government’s wider aim of treating more people in their own home and local community. The HSCIC remains extremely cautious about the statistics. It says there may be many reasons why a person might be in a bed far from home – for example, they might have chosen to go there, or been on holiday or visiting relatives when needing urgent care. In some parts of the country, even those treated in “local” hospitals are a relatively long distance from home because of the large geographical size and relatively low population densities served by their mental health trusts, the HSCIC says.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP) has previously warned that some parts of the mental health service are at breaking point. On Wednesday it announced it was setting up an independent inquiry into the provision of acute beds for psychiatric patients not only in England but also Wales and Northern Ireland.
It said: “There is evidence – some quantified, some anecdotal – of difficulties in admissions, variable services for patients in the community, long-distance transfers of patients, high occupancy rates and high stress levels amongst patients, their families, carers and staff.”
This article and image first appeared The Guardian, 5 February 2015.