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Published: 11:00, 06 November 2014
The county’s NHS mental health trust spent more than £5 million on private hospitals last year due to a shortage of beds for patients.
A Freedom of Information request shows 356 patients in Kent were placed into private care over just 12 months because beds could not be found.
The patients, detained under the Mental Health Act, were sent to “places of safety” up and down the country at a cost of £5,671,000 to the taxpayer.
Two years ago the Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust (KMPT) opened a new 36-bed inpatient facility in Canterbury at a cost of £10 million, promising the “very best care and treatment in the best facilities”.
Yet in 2013 the trust was sending an average of one patient per day into private care because it could not house them itself, we can reveal.
Ed Targett, Green Party parliamentary candidate for North Thanet, said: “There aren’t enough beds and there aren’t enough nurses, and ‘care in the community’ programmes are run ragged.
“In austere times, paying this kind of money to private health care providers, who charge an absolute fortune, is a scandal. Taxpayers’ money for the NHS is being recycled straight into the private sector because of mismanagement and poor priorities.”
KMPT provides mental health, learning disability, substance misuse and other specialist services for 1.6 million people across the county.
Patients who display certain characteristics which give cause for concern can be detained under a process known colloquially as “sectioning”.
According to Mr Targett, who made the FOI request, the trust’s policy had been to focus on “care in the community” and reduce the number of mental health inpatients as far as possible.
Despite KMPT opening its new inpatient facility at St Martin’s Hospital in Littlebourne Road, Canterbury, in October 2012, Mr Targett claims overall bed numbers have been scaled back due to the closure of acute wards in Ashford and Margate.
He is strongly critical of the £5.6 million expediture on private health care when the trust lacks beds, saying: “That money should categorically be spent on more NHS beds and on creating more jobs for overworked mental health staff, who are being stretched to their limits.
“The KMPT has boasted of a £10 million new centre in Canterbury, but it is spending more than half that per year on private hospitals because of closures elsewhere.”
A spokesman for KMPT said: “The trust is committed to working with its commissioners, service users and carers to identify the appropriate interventions required to meet the demands of those experiencing mental health problems.
“Commissioners have identified that the trust requires 174 acute adult beds to meet levels of demand. The trust is currently in the process of increasing the number of inpatient beds available to meet this requirement.”