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Mental health patients ‘warehoused’ in private wards miles from home

Hundreds of patients are being ‘warehoused’ in privately run mental health rehabilitation wards, according to a BMA investigation.

Research by the BMA’s Doctor magazine found that 700 patients were admitted to private mental health wards run with minimal or no contact with family or NHS doctors overseeing their treatment – and sometimes hundreds of miles away from their homes.

The investigation also found that CCG spending on private mental health rehabilitation far outstripped NHS spending. 

In addition, the rate of CCGs commissioning private sector services over NHS mental health services has increased in the past three years.

Responses from 78 CCGs showed that between 2016/17 and 2018/19 there was a £21m increased spend in outsourcing mental health rehabilitation to the private sector but only an increase of £2m for NHS providers.

Spending on private out-of-area rehab by the 78 CCGs that responded amounted to over £186.3m – 11% more since 2016 – compared with just over £141.5m spent on NHS beds (a 1.4% increase since 2016).

The investigation looked at the distances of more than 2,600 out-of-area rehab NHS beds since 2016 and found 140 beds were more than a seven-hour round trip away.

This comes as the investigation also revealed that NHS mental health rehabilitation wards have ‘all but disappeared’ from 18 CCGs and trusts in England.

These 18 CCGs spent at least 90% of their NHS budget on private mental health wards.

But the BMA also found that some CCGs and trusts were spending all their budget over the past three years on private care for mental health services:

  • NHS Sandwell and West Birmingham CCG at a cost of £ 20.26m
  • NHS Walsall CCG at a cost of £12.5m
  • NHS East Lancashire CCG at a cost of £12.44m
  • NHS Blackburn with Darwen CCG at a cost of £11.08m
  • NHS Greater Preston CCG at a cost of £10.26m

BMA lead for mental health, psychiatrist Dr Andrew Molodynski said the practice of ‘warehousing’ mental health patients ‘goes against the very nature of rehabilitation, which should be a transitional process, helping to reintegrate a patient back into society.’

He added: ‘As well as the debilitating impact on the patient, the eye-watering sums being spent on out-of-area private providers is a clear sign that the Government must get a grip on this worrying practice. There are no positives here for patients, families, care services, or the public purse – quite the opposite. We need to ensure that care is available closer to home to give patients the best possible chance of recovery and reintegration.’

Chair of the Rehabilitation and Social Psychiatry Faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists Dr Raj Mohan said: ‘The data is extremely concerning. The high numbers of people with longer-term serious mental illness being sent out of area for treatment shows that we are failing those who need rehabilitation care.’

Mind chief executive Paul Farmer said: ‘The lack of NHS rehabilitation services in some areas is further evidence of the need for significant investment to improve the state of the buildings where people receive care – so that wards provide safe, therapeutic environments for people.

‘The NHS has rightly committed to improve mental health services and this must include ensuring that people can get the treatment they need, when they need it and close to home.’

The CQC revealed in March that almost half of private primary care services are not providing safe care.