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NHS spends millions a year on private beds for mental health patients

Investigation finds at least £186 million in costs, with patients sent hundreds of miles away

Investigation finds at least £186 million is spent every year, with patients sent hundreds of miles away


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The NHS is spending millions of pounds on private beds for patients with mental health issues, according to the British Medical Association (BMA).

At least 18 areas in England have no NHS mental health rehabilitation wards, a BMA investigation found. 

The research also highlighted that a lack of local services means some NHS patients are being sent hundreds of miles from home to receive the treatment they need.

Detrimental effects

BMA lead for mental health Andrew Molodynski said out-of-area placements have become ‘endemic’ in the health service, and warned of the detrimental effect they can have on patients.

The research, published by the BMA's The Doctor magazine, found the amount spent on inpatient beds in the private sector has increased significantly since 2016.

Of the 176 Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) in England that responded to a freedom of information request, 78 provided spending figures for mental health rehabilitation beds.

Within these CCGs, spending in the private sector increased by around £21 million – from £165 million to £186 million – between 2016-17 and 2018-19.

Spending on NHS mental health rehabilitation beds rose by around £2 million during this period, from £139 million to £141 million.

Care closer to home

Dr Molodynski said: ‘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.’

The research also found that among 129 CCGs and trusts that responded, a total of 2,600 out-of-area beds were commissioned between 2016 and 2019. Around 90% of these were private beds.

One involved a round-trip of 341 miles for the patient, from Northamptonshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust to Glasgow, for a mental health rehabilitation bed.

Meanwhile, 18 CCGs said they have no NHS wards for mental health rehabilitation.

At NHS South Kent Coast CCG, the maximum round trip was 311 miles to Darlington.

An NHS England spokesman said: ‘The NHS is expanding the availability of local services, but whoever provides care, they are required by CQC and the NHS to ensure it is safe and effective.’


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