Published: 00:01, 02 May 2017
Mental health bosses in Kent spent a staggering £12 million in a single year sending hundreds of vulnerable patients to private hospitals across the country.
Some were sent away as far as Darlington in County Durham, more than 300 miles away, while almost 180 patients spent time in the Priory in East Sussex.
The Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust (KMPT), the provider of mental health and social care services, insists it has since turned things around, with not a single private bed currently being used.
But figures show the astonishing spend last year came at a time when the Maidstone-based trust’s deficit, for 2016/17, was £4.1 million.
Despite this huge funding shortfall, a Freedom of Information request revealed KMPT sent 662 mental health patients to private beds up and down the country in the 12 months up to January 2017, at a cost of £12.2 million – significantly higher than any of the other 20 trusts that responded.
This is more than double the figure three years previously when KMPT spent £5 million sending 356 to “places of safety”.
But the trust insists the situation has improved significantly under new chief executive Helen Greatorex – a former mental health nurse.
A KMPT spokesman said it set an aim to have no one in private beds this year – a target it has now reached.
“In June 2016, the trust had 76 patients in private beds, some as far away as Hull and Manchester,” she said.
“This was both a quality of care and financial issue for the trust, with the spend per month on private beds exceeding £1 million.
“On taking up post, Helen Greatorex made a firm commitment the trust would remedy this and work towards having no more than 15 patients in private beds by November 1.
“This ambitious target was delivered at the end of October.
“The trust then set itself the aim of having no one in private beds and continuing to ensure that every bed was used to its best effect every day
“Today, the trust has no one in a private bed.”
She says KMPT achieved the huge turnaround through strong clinical leadership, a “relentless” focus on ensuring every bed is used to its best effect every day, and that people do not stay in hospital for longer than necessary.
Ed Targett, former Green Party candidate for North Thanet, which includes Herne Bay, said: “Cutting your own services to the bone – then being forced to pay millions to secure private beds across the country is the ultimate false economy.
“Ultimately though, it has been spending millions on private beds because there are people in urgent need of help. This fact has not changed.”
Four years ago the trust opened a new £10 million, 36-bed inpatient facility in Canterbury aimed at providing the “very best care and treatment in the best facilities”.
St Martin’s Hospital in Littlebourne Road offers a psychiatric intensive care unit and outreach as well as an acute inpatient ward and rehabilitation unit.
Mr Targett added: “Our mental health trust deserves proper funding and to be equipped to invest in the beds, wards and staff they need to start a joined-up fightback against what is a real mental health crisis.
“Suicide is still the biggest killer of men under 45 – and the number of people being sectioned continues to rise.
“It’s been great to see Prince Harry speaking out about it, as this is a quiet national crisis.”
A mental health patient sent by the NHS to a private hospital miles from home has described it as the worst experience of her life.
Sophie Goldsmith, of Seymour Avenue in Whitstable, was admitted to the Priory Hospital in Ticehurst, East Sussex, last September after being discharged from St Martin’s in Canterbury.
The 23-year-old, who has borderline personality disorder, says she had reached crisis point but there was no local NHS beds available.
“My dad had to push to get me a bed and that ended up being in Ticehurst,” she said.
“It’s about an hour-and-a-half away.
“It was quite frightening. To begin with you’re hopeful because you think the care there will be better, but I was there a week and it was awful.”
The King’s College London student, who is studying English, says she was put on recall, meaning she could receive a call at any time to say an NHS bed was available.
“You could be out within 20 minutes. You don’t know how long you’ll be there, which creates problems with settling in.
“It was pretty horrendous from that point of view – you need to feel safe and secure.”
"It was pretty horrendous...the worst experience of my life" - Sophie Goldsmith
She says being so far away from the home she shares with her dad Nick meant she had no visitors, making her feel even more alone.
“It set me back in my recovery,” she said.
“I heard of some people who were placed near Scotland so I know being an hour-and-a-half away from home wasn’t the end of the world, but it was the worst experience of my life.”
Miss Goldsmith says she does not think, however, that scrapping the use of private beds altogether is a good thing.
The Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust (KMPT) says it has reduced the current number to zero.
“This could mean they are not sending people there when they actually need it,” said Miss Goldsmith.
“It makes me wonder whether some people are missing out on inpatient care.
“I don’t think it’s the right place for everyone, but cutting it all will mean some are missing out on being treated.”