CONSERVATIVE
New Forest East

By Rachel Masker

Southern Daily Echo – 10 August 2013

People suffering from severe mental illness in Hampshire are being sent out-of-area and to private hospitals amid a shortage of psychiatric intensive care beds. Mental patients being sent to private care and away from Hampshire. Demand for acute mental health beds across the county exceeded supply for seven out of the last eight months, according to the latest figures. Figures show there were more patients in crisis than available NHS beds on every single day of September 2012.

Between August 2012 and June 2013, some 12 men and women were sent to private hospitals, including The Priory in Marchwood, best known for treating celebrities. Bed pressures meant a number of patients in acute distress were sent as far afield as London – miles from families and friends.

Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust (SHFT) also opened “contingency beds” in local acute mental health units to cope with demand. As previously reported, the trust axed 35 per cent of beds last year as part of a cost-cutting drive and a national move towards more community-based treatment.

Richard Barritt, chief executive of charity Solent Mind, said sending people long distances for treatment made it more difficult for families to visit. He said:

"The jury is still out if the trust has got the balance of community to acute beds right. Patients and carers are entitled to know what the trust is doing to ensure that people who are sent as far away as London can keep in touch with their families and local support network."

The trust has saved about £890,000 by reducing beds over the last eight months despite spending on private hospital treatment, according to figures scrutinised by the county council’s health overview and scrutiny committee which has a watchdog role. About one third of the savings have been re-invested in community services.

Trust chiefs say many patients want to receive care in their own homes and promised no patient in need of a hospital bed would be denied one – even if it meant sending them to a neighbouring NHS trust or private hospital. Anna Lewis, divisional director at the trust, told councillors bed-blocking was partly to blame for the shortage. Some patients well enough to leave hospital were stuck because of a lack of suitable alternative housing.

The cost of an NHS psychiatric intensive care bed is £367 per day compared to an average £524 previously paid by the trust for a bed at The Priory. SHFT closed 58 beds, including 24 at Woodhaven in Calmore and The Meadows in Sarisbury Green. Some 125 jobs were also axed.

The closures were fiercely opposed by New Forest East MP Dr Julian Lewis.  The Tory MP feared patients’ lives could be at risk under plans to reduce acute mental health beds from 165 in January 2012 to 107 last July. But the number of critical incidents appears to have remained stable. Trust figures show there were 13 critical incidents, including suicides and brandishing a knife in a public place, in the three months before the shake-up compared to 14 in the three months after.

However the number of sick days taken by staff increased by eight per cent. Survey data also showed many psychiatrists and GPs thought access to patient records, back-office support and office space was worse. By comparison, patients were more positive about the shift from hospital to community-based care.