A lack of secure inpatient NHS beds has driven a £21m overspend in NHS England’s budget for independent sector mental health providers. HSJ analysis reveals the organisation overspent £21m on independent mental health providers, 5 per cent more than its planned spending on this sector.

In contrast, the organisation’s overspend on its NHS mental health provider budget was just £650,000 – 0.06 per cent of its planned spend.

The six largest overspends on mental health services were for independent providers. The Priory Group received more than £9m above planned spend, an overspend of almost 12 per cent.

St Andrew’s Healthcare received almost £7m more than the £100m planned spending.

A spokeswoman for the charity said the increase was caused by “unprecedented demand for specialist mental health services… driven by referrals into adolescent services, where there is an acute shortage of beds nationally, and growth in our adult services”.

Chief executives of NHS mental health providers put the difference between the independent and NHS sector overspends down to a lack of capacity in the NHS. This has led to many patients needing secure inpatient care being sent out of their area to independent providers.

Coventry and Warwickshire Partnership Trust chief executive Rachel Newson estimated her trust alone could have saved NHS England about £1m a year if it had commissioned beds at its new unit.

As HSJ reported earlier this year, the unit fell foul of a moratorium on a new entrants to the market for secure provision while NHS England reviews specifications for the services.

Andy Sant, medical director at Plymouth Community Healthcare, which provides NHS-funded community and mental health services, told HSJ there was a lack of a “coherent” plan to address the bed shortage. He added: “The spend goes where the capacity is and the capacity clearly resides in the private sector.”

A spokeswoman for NHS England said the greater spend in the independent sector was because providers were “paid on a pure ‘cost per case’ basis, so there is greater volatility in spend if activity increases”.

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