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
A North East MP has entered the row over proposed changes to mental health services that will see scores of jobs lost in the North East.
Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery says vulnerable patients and their families are left feeling abandoned by plans to alter the way that important services are delivered in the region.
Controversial plans have been made by Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust to close mental health wards, relocate service and develop new units.
Mr Lavery said: “I have met with a number of my constituents who use the services and they feel that they are being abandoned by the mental health trust.
“It really concerns me the planned changes that have been made. We cannot sit back and say that everything is fine because the reality is that it is not. These changes will put real and increased strain on patients and their families.
“We cannot get rid of such critical services. It would appear that these changes are being made to cut costs with patients not being the main focus.”
Under the proposals, as many as 169 frontline NHS posts will be axed and more than 90 beds reduced as more care is delivered in the community.
Each year since 2010, the trust has been required to make savings of approximately £12m while meeting the same levels of demand.
Health chiefs are adamant that the proposals will significantly improve patient care while delivering cost savings to ensure services remain viable in the long-term.
James Duncan, acting chief executive of Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust said: “We have listened very carefully to the feedback we have received from service users, carers and our partners in recent years so that we can play our part in providing the best modern mental health services for local people, designed around their needs.
“Building on this, we have embarked on a challenging transformation programme to ensure that our services continue to be high quality, are easier to access and provide the best value for money.
“It is important to remember that the vast majority of people who use our services are supported in the community, with only about 3% needing to spend time in hospital. Alongside changes to inpatient services, we have also seen significant improvements in mental health services locally.”
Staff at the health trust have undergone a consultation process and a number of public engagement events have taken place to discuss the proposals.
It is expected that all the changes will be in place within the next two to three years.
Source – Newcastle Journal 05 May 2014