The cost of treating mental health inpatients in hospitals outside their local areas has spiralled, research by HSJ reveals.

Figures supplied by 21 NHS trusts reveal that their collective spending on out of area placements solely due to capacity pressures jumped 42 per cent, from £32m in 2011-12 to £46m in 2012-13 - the last full year for which figures were available.

According to HSJ research, the number of patients treated outside their areas also increased.

Some 1,785 patients were treated out of their area in 2012-13 compared with 1,145 in 2011-12, an increase of 56 per cent. Between April and December 2013 that number already stood at 1,575.

Some patients have travelled hundreds of miles to have a bed. One travelled from Yorkshire to the South West, a journey of more than 300 miles; another travelled in excess of 200 miles going from Oxford to Lancashire.

rise of out of area beds

Helen Gilbert, fellow in health policy at the King’s Fund, said: “We know that out of area placements are being used excessively by some trusts and that there is a high degree of variation.

“This doesn’t necessarily show rising demand. There is a possibility the sector has cut its beds too far or, alternatively, cut its beds and not invested sufficiently in community teams.”

Rebecca Cotton, director of mental health policy at the Mental Health Network added: “Any large increases in numbers of out of area placements indicate there are real problems with capacity in parts of the system.

“This is a big issue for local commissioners, who need to make sure they are properly assessing demand and ensuring that the right services are available.”