More mental health hospital beds are needed in England to end the “distressing” sending of patients far from home, analysis suggests.
Patients with conditions such as schizophrenia can be sent to hospitals miles away from their home if their nearby units do not have space.
The Department of Health aims to end inappropriate far-away placements by 2021.
But the Royal College of Psychiatrists report suggested the push had stalled.
The number of inappropriate out-of-area placements at any one time has been consistently between 700 and 800 patients in recent months, after dipping below 600 towards the end of 2018.
Simon’s story: ‘Being sent far away was a nightmare’
Simon Rose, 49, was sent to Harrogate, 80 miles away from his Derbyshire home, when he became severely depressed and suicidal six years ago.
His wife, Janine, had just given birth to their daughter Louisa, when he became ill. He was in hospital for 14 weeks.
The father of four, who now works as a lived-experience educator for Derbyshire mental health trust, said: “It was a nightmare being so far away.
“My community psychiatric nurse couldn’t come up to Harrogate.
“The strain on my family was horrendous. My wife was trying to cope with having a newborn baby at a time when I was not just severely ill but physically absent.
“They wanted to visit me regularly in hospital but it was a two-hour drive, so that was impossible to do often.”
There are currently 18,400 mental-health beds – down from more than 67,000 in the late 1980s.
The number was reduced so more services could be made available in the community – something the college supports.
But president Prof Wendy Burn said it was clear the reductions had gone too far.
“Trusts struggling with dangerously high levels of bed occupancy are being forced to send seriously ill people hundreds of miles away from their homes for care,” she said. “That must stop.”
Research for the college suggests 1,000 extra beds are needed.
Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of the charity Sane, said the drive to cut bed numbers had been “relentless” and caused “widespread distress and neglect”.
“Far too many people contacting us are being shunted around the country like unwanted parcels,” she said.
“We believe this has led to ever more patients left at risk of self-harm and suicide.”
But the NHS has always maintained it has plans in place to boost community mental health care.
Some £2.3bn of the extra £20bn that will be available to the NHS by 2023 has been earmarked for mental health and out-of-hospital services in particular, which officials say will reduce the demand on hospital beds in the coming years.
There is also a focus on a small number of trusts responsible for a disproportionate number of far-away placements.
Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats have this week announced they would increase funding further by putting some of the money raised by their policy of putting 1p on income tax towards mental health.
It would mean the budget being increased by close to £2bn a year.