A joint investigation conducted by the BBC and the online journal, Community Care has uncovered serious problems in the NHS regarding the emergency care of mental health patients.
As a result of cuts, mental health trusts have seen a reduction of more than 1,700 beds over the past two years, which means patients are having to travel long distances to seek emergency treatment.
Figures suggest that the number of patients travelling to seek emergency treatment has more than doubled in two years – from 1,301 people in 2011/12 to 3,024 in 2013/14.
Earlier this year it was reported that one patient had to be admitted to a deaf unit as no beds were available anywhere in the country.
Health minister, Norman Lamb said out-of-area treatment was a “last resort”, but that it was “unacceptable” if patients had to travel “hundreds of miles” for treatment. He said he was determined to drive up standards of care in the NHS.
Although sending patients out of area is considered appropriate for specialist treatments, data from 30 of England’s 58 mental health trusts shows the number of patients sent out of the area has soared since 2011/12.
This increase comes despite there being a fall in the number of patients being admitted to hospital for mental health problems – from 167,285 in 2011/12 to 166,654 in 2012/13.
Mental health trusts are working hard to battle the problem, and some are beginning to maintain – and even reduce – the number of people they send elsewhere.
One mental health trust spent £345,000 last year placing patients in bed-and-breakfast accommodation in order make available some much-needed beds.
Among the worst-affected areas are Kent and Sussex. Last year, 334 patients in Kent were sent out of the country at a cost of £5m compared to only 20 people in 2011-12 at a cost of £141,000.
In Sussex, the number of patients sent out of area increased from 28 in 2011/12 to 227 last year.
Paul Farmer, chief executive of mental health charity Mind, said: “It is a disgrace that people with mental health problems are being sent miles away from family and friends or being accommodated in inappropriate settings when they are acutely unwell.
“This is the latest in a long line of clear signals that, at least in some parts of the country, NHS mental health services are in crisis. Continued cuts to funding for mental health services are taking a significant toll on the quality and availability of services.”