More than 2,100 mental health patients were forced to travel out of area for an inpatient bed in May this year, according to data published by the Health and Social Care Information Centre.

  • Potentially hundreds of mental health patients sent hundreds of miles for a bed
  • Increased demand and reductions in bed numbers driving the use of out of area beds
  • Former health minister Norman Lamb says problem could be solved within 12 months

It is the first time official data on the scale of the shortage of inpatient beds in mental health has been made available, as part of new statistics that also revealed 465 mental health patients had to travel 30 miles or more for a bed.

The use of out of area placements, which in some cases can see patients, including children, sent hundreds of miles for an inpatient bed, has risen in recent years as demand for mental health services has increased while the number of beds has fallen.

According to the information centre’s data, there were 14,300 patients in a non-specialist inpatient bed in May.

Norman Lamb

The data shows a ‘serious failure of care’, Norman Lamb said

There were 2,107 patients who were sent out of area, meaning they were away from the usual mental health provider.

In 2013, HSJ revealed there had been a 31 per cent cut in mental health beds between 2003 and 2013, with reports from some providers of patients travelling more than 200 miles for a bed.

Norman Lamb, who was responsible for mental health services as a minister in the coalition government before May’s general election, said yesterday that out of area placements were a “serious failure of care”.

He called on the Department of Health to end the practice by the end of the year. He added: “In the last Parliament I asked NHS governance bodies to look at this practice in-depth to identify the root of the problem.

“The advice I received at the time indicated it could be possible to put an end to this within 12 months. Unfortunately, discussions were still ongoing when I left the department.

“I am calling on the new government to ensure they do not let tackling this important issue fall by the wayside.”

A DH spokeswoman said: “We want to reduce the use of out of area mental health services and are working with the [information centre] to continue to improve the data we have about where out of area placements happen.

“Monitor, [NHS Trust Development Authority] and NHS England are working with providers and commissioners to better understand the pressures and find solutions to make sure there is enough capacity.”