FAMILIES of mental health patients sent to hospitals away from Wiltshire face some of the longest journey times in the country, new figures show.

Due to bed shortages, Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust was forced to send 96 adult patients to hospitals outside of the Wiltshire and Avon area last year.

Families faced an average round-trip car journey of almost five hours (4hrs 56mins) just to visit a relative.

The figures come from freedom of information (FOI) requests sent to NHS trusts and clinical commissioning groups around the country by doctors’ group the British Medical Association (BMA).

Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust had the eighth highest average journey time out of the 44 trusts surveyed by the BMA.

However the NHS Trust said today that no patient from Swindon had been sent outside the area in the last two years.

According to the BMA, nationally there has been a rise of almost 40 per cent from 2014/15 to 2016/17 in the number of adults sent away from their home area for mental health treatment.

Dr Andrew Molodynski, the BMA’s mental health policy lead, said: “The practice of sending patients with severe mental health problems to beds hundreds of miles away from their home and families has become endemic in the NHS. The government needs to get a handle on this situation because patients are being routinely failed by a system at breaking point, with tragic consequences.”

The number of adults Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust, which operates Swindon’s Sandalwood Court psychiatric hospital, sent for out of area care has fallen by two-thirds in the past three years, from 297 in 2014/15 to 96 in 2016/17. The trust says this drop is due to better “bed management” in the area.

A spokesman for the trust said: “Demand can be difficult to predict and sometimes exceeds what we are commissioned to provide locally. Those people that are cared for out of area require highly specialist treatment and sometimes a placement is arranged for people to return to be close to friends and family.

“This is a priority for our Trust as we recognise the pressure out of area care can have on our service users and their families.”

Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust was revealed by the BMA to have sent adult patients some of the furthest distances for out of area care.

One was sent to a hospital in Inverness – a distance of 532 miles. Another patient had to travel 497 miles to Cornhill Hospital, a psychiatric hospital in Aberdeen.

Oxford Health manages the Marlborough House centre on Swindon’s Okus Road for children and adolescents with mental health problems, but does not operate adult mental care services in the town.

A spokesman for Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust said: “Our staff have worked hard to reduce out of area bed placements here at Oxford Health over the past year and these efforts have led to a significant reduction in their use.

“Sending someone who is acutely unwell to a hospital miles away from their home can have a significant impact on both their and their carers experience.”

The trust said that it now had a system in place allowing their ward staff and community teams to discuss patients’ needs and bed availability on a daily basis.

Louise Rubin, head of policy and campaigns at mental health charity Mind, said: “It’s unacceptable that people who are at their most unwell and in desperate need of care find themselves travelling across the country to get help.”

A spokesman for patient group Healthwatch Swindon said: “Although local people have not directly raised issues with us about out of area placements for mental health patients as a concern to us, we would encourage people who have used mental health services to come forward and tell us about their experience.”

  • The Samaritans are available around the clock for anyone struggling to cope. Anyone can contact Samaritans for free any time from any phone on 116 123 (this number is free to call and will not appear on the phone bill) or email jo@samaritans.org