Published: 10:00, 15 February 2016
With no beds for patients needing serious mental health treatment available in Medway, millions of pounds are being spent sending them out of the county.
According to a report from The Commission on Acute Adult Psychiatric Care, about 500 patients every month in England are having to travel more than 31 miles for emergency care on psychiatric wards.
But for those in Medway, they have no choice but to travel away from their home town for treatment.
Between April 2014 and March 2015, patients from Medway spent 1,444 days in beds outside of the county at a cost to the taxpayer of £1,126,320. From April 2015 and December 2015, this figure stood at £792,480 for 1,016 bed days.
In total, Kent and Medway NHS Social Care Partnership Trust (KMPT) spent £4.4 million on external bed days in 2014/2015, and has already spent £5.7 million this year.
It comes on the day the NHS in England reveals it will treat one million more people a year with mental health problems by 2021.
The government has pledged an extra £1 billion a year to improve services after a review found just 15% of patients who need psychological care have access to it.
There have been no designated inpatient beds in Medway since A Block, the mental health ward at Medway Maritime Hospital, closed in December 2013 because the facilities were old and outdated.
At the time, the trust said the move would increase beds from 160 to 174 with centre of excellences opening in Dartford, Maidstone and Canterbury.
The chairman of Medway Council’s health and wellbeing board said the money would have been better spent upgrading A Block.
Cllr David Brake said: “Effectively every person in Medway that requires the acute service has to have an out-of-area bed – they are having to go out of Medway for that service.
“At a time when the most vulnerable people are looking for support from their community and close family they are having to travel away from home and how on earth can close family travel all over the country to see them?
"At a time when the most vulnerable people are looking for support from their community and close family they are having to travel away from home" - Cllr David Brake
“These are the very people who need support and its not fair.”
In 2014, KentOnline's sister paper the Medway Messenger revealed that people had been sent as far afield as Carlisle and Hertfordshire, and Cllr Brake said people were still being sent all over the country.
He added: “It’s not a good situation we are finding ourselves in. I shall continue to push to see this resolved.”
Before Christmas, Therapeutic House in Park Avenue, Gillingham, which provided intensive treatment for people with personality disorders, also closed after Medway Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) decided to stop funding the service.
A Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust spokesman said: “We continue to work with partner organisations on a day-by-day basis to keep patients who need a bed within Kent and Medway wherever possible.
“Additionally, we are reviewing with local NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups the medium term need, and funding, for services that would act as an alternative to inpatient admission or separate additional bed capacity.”
The independent commission was set up by the Royal College of Psychiatrists following concerns about the provision of inpatient psychiatric beds, and psychiatrists are calling for an end to the practice of sending patients miles away from home for treatment.
The former NHS chief executive Nigel Crisp, who headed the inquiry, said: “It is time to end the difference in standards between mental and physical illnesses.
“People with severe mental illnesses need to find care just as quickly as people suffering from physical illnesses – and they shouldn’t have to travel long distances to do so.”
The report recommends a maximum four-hour wait for admission to a ward or for home-based treatment following assessment – a move that would be written into the NHS Constitution from October 2017.
It also recommends the practice of sending acutely ill patients long distances for non-specialist treatment is phased out, by October 2017.
More by this authorClare Freeman