UK
09/02/2016 10:02 GMT | Updated 09/02/2016 15:59 GMT

Mental Health Commission Calls For Long Distance Hospital Admissions To End For Patients

People suffering with a mental illness should not have to travel long distances for treatment, a commission has said, as experts branded some services "potentially dangerous".

Around 500 mentally ill people every month are estimated to travel over 50km (over 30 miles) to be admitted to hospitals far from their own homes.

A new independent panel led by cross-bench peer Nigel Crisp says thousands of people in England each year are "travelling unacceptably long distances for acute admissions" and are putting pressure on health ministers to for the practice to end by October 2017.

Their report warns that "out of area treatments cause problems for patients and for their families and carers".

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Mentally ill patients are not facing speedy access to care

"Geographical separation from a patient's support networks can leave them feeling isolated and delay recovery."

Laura Nuttall, a 25-year-old who has a long-term mental health condition, was one of those Lord Crisp's commission spoke to during their investigation.

She told how there were no beds at hospitals she needed treatment from either in her home county of Lincolnshire or any of the surrounding areas.

"It was really hard because up until that point my family had been my carers and were literally caring for me 24/7 - staying awake with me through the night," Laura told the BBC's 'Today' programme.

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Laura had to travel up to 70 miles from her home to the hospital

"Suddenly I was far away so they couldn't keep an eye on me and see how I was doing.

"Also it was hard for me because family support and support from friends is a massive contributor to recovering from a relapse.

Praising the doctors and nurses who looked after her after re-admission in November, Laura added: "I did receive fantastic care.

"Looking back now, although travelling the distance wasn't ideal, I can't fault the hospital and the treatment i did receive."

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Nigel Crisp, pictured, led the thorough review

Lord Crisp's commission is calling for a new four-hour wait target to be introduced for admission or acceptance for home-based treatment following assessment for acute mental illness, in a bid to provide quicker and easier access to care.

The peer said: "It is time to end the difference in standards between mental and physical illnesses.

"People with severe mental illnesses need to be able to find care just as quickly as people suffering from physical illnesses - and they shouldn't have to travel long distances to do so."

Professor Sir Simon Wessely, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, added: "Everyone agrees that it is a scandal that patients with serious mental disorders who need admission can end up being sent anywhere from Cornwall to Cumbria in a search for a bed. And yet it continues.

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NHS services are under pressure to accommodate mental health patients

"In particular we stand alongside Lord Crisp in asking that there is a new pledge for a maximum four hour wait for admission or home treatment by 2017, and that the unacceptable practice of sending seriously sick patients around the country is ended by the same date.

"If we were talking strokes, heart attacks or cancer, we wouldn't even have to ask."

Brian Dow, director of external affairs at Rethink Mental Illness, commented: "If you have a physical health emergency you expect to be treated quickly, not sent miles from home.

"So why is this acceptable if you have a mental health emergency? Mental health remains a neglected service.

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"The Government has promised to invest an £600 million during this Parliament which is incredibly welcome, but to put that into context, almost £600 million was cut from mental health services in the last Parliament, so essentially it's filling up what was previously drained out."

Responding to Lord Crisp's report, mental health minister Alistair Burt said: "It's crucial that people get the mental health care they need as quickly and as close to home as possible.

"Last year, I asked NHS England to reduce unnecessary out of area treatments, and eliminate their inappropriate use.

"We agree that there should be standards for what people can expect from mental health treatment, and when. NHS England and others will be working on this over the coming months."