Health bosses have spent more than £1million paying for Sunderland patients to be treated at non-NHS hospitals.
Figures show that £1,003,390.51 was used to help just seven mental health patients receive treatment at private units, clinics or hospitals outside of the Wearside area.
Health leaders have defended the spend, claiming “bespoke” packages are occasionally needed to provide the best treatment to individuals.
But mental health charity bosses argue the paying for services reveals only further evidence the area is struggling to cope when it comes to providing care.
Dorothy Gardiner, project manager for Sunderland Mind, said: “Continued cuts to funding for mental health services are taking a significant toll on the quality and availability of services in our area.
“We are facing a large number of cutbacks in mental health provision here.
“Sending patients out of the area can also be expensive for carers and families. We would always want to provide care for people where they live.”
The £1million covers the 2013/14 period and was used to support the seven patients, which has since been reduced to six.
A spokesperson for Sunderland Clinical Commissioning Group, who purchased the out-of-area services, said: “When providing care for mental health patients, people are reviewed individually and the most appropriate care/treatment package is put in place, according to their individual assessed needs.
“For each patient, we identify care and treatment needs and often look at bespoke packages in order to deliver this within our area.
“It is only as a last resort that we purchase care out of the Sunderland area.
“We then review the individual’s treatment regularly with the aim of returning the patient to the Sunderland area as soon as possible.”
The figures come amid concerns that mental health hospital services in the region are becoming increasingly squeezed.
Last month, mental health bosses revealed the number of beds for patients could be cut at Sunderland’s Cherry Knowle Hospital – with nursing jobs also set to go.
Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust have said that two psychiatric intensive care units are set to be merged.
Cherry Knowle’s Dene ward and the Greentrees Ward at St Nicholas Hospital in Newcastle both have 14 beds, but a merger of the two is planned to create a single 14-bed facility at the new Hopewood Park in Ryhope, which is due to open this summer.
Also, as part of changes to the current inpatient care system, more services could be delivered in the community, meaning that about 90 beds across the trust’s Sunderland, South Tyneside and Gateshead sites could be axed.
Earlier this week, concerns were raised that a lack of mental health beds is forcing patients to seek treatment in other NHS facilities up to hundreds of miles away.
The number of patients, nationally, travelling to seek emergency treatment has more than doubled in two years – from 1,301 people in 2011-12 to 3,024 in 2013-14.
Source – Sunderland Echo 10 May 2014
Fears have been expressed for some of the region’s most vulnerable patients after it emerged more than 150 frontline NHS posts will be cut.
As many as 169 posts at Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust will be lost under radical plans to change the way that care is delivered to mental health patients.
Nurses are set to be the worst hit, though a total of 867 employees will be affected as staff may be required to change their place of work or undergo different shift patterns.
Plans put forward for consultation will see wards close, services relocated and the development of new units as the trust aims to reduce costs by 20% over a five-year period.
Health chiefs have insisted that the changes will significantly improve patient services, but staff and unions have raised fears over employees’ safety and future staffing levels.
Glenn Turp, regional director for the Royal College of Nursing, said: “Trust management have told us that although they are endeavouring to redeploy all of the staff who are affected by the restructuring, they can not give guarantees that all staff will be redeployed, and as a consequence they have issued ‘advance notice of redundancy forms’ affecting around 170 staff.
“The fact remains that local NHS employers are in the invidious position of having to make huge cost savings that are not deliverable without having a negative impact on patient care, frontline staffing and inpatient activity.”
Thirteen new schemes will be introduced across the region covering all aspects of mental health, including older people’s services, psychiatric intensive care and male high dependency.
Community services will be enhanced so that fewer people will require hospital admission.
It is believed that more than 90 beds will be reduced and new ways of accessing treatment introduced for those with psychosis, non-psychosis, cognitive disorders and learning disability.
A mental health nurse, who has asked not to be named, said: “A number of challenging patients who used to be managed within the hospital setting are now going to have to be cared for in the community.
“Without significant additional investment in community services and staff, this will put significant pressure on both the patients themselves, and their families who will be increasingly relied upon to provide support when NHS staff are not available.
“For those patients who do not have a supportive family network, this may put both their health and safety at risk.
“The public should be concerned about the scale and the nature of this restructuring, because it looks as if community care is being delivered on the cheap. That has implications for everyone.”
The trust is currently working with staff on the proposals and a number of public consultation events have taken place. It is expected that the changes will come into force within the next two to three years.
A spokesperson for Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust said: “Service users, carers, the voluntary sector and our commissioners and local authorities have been involved for many months in developing our plans for mental health services across Northumberland, Tyne and Wear.
“The vast majority of our services are provided in the community with only 3% of our patients ever needing to go to hospital, yet we spend more than 50% of our resources for services on our inpatient beds.
“Our aim is to improve quality in both our inpatient and community services whilst at the same time meeting the cost savings required of us.
“In terms of our inpatient beds, the trust currently has over 650 beds and as an example, in the last three weeks we have used in the order of 470 beds each day.”
Source – Newcastle Journal 23 April 2014