MILLIONS of pounds has been spent sending hundreds of mental health sufferers outside the area for inpatient treatment – on at least one occasion more than 500 miles away, the Oxford Mail can reveal.

This includes patients sent to a deaf unit in Birmingham and New Craigs Hospital, Inverness, in the Scottish Highlands – 520 miles from here.

Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust has sent at least 219 patients out of the area since 2011 – at a cost of at least £5.23m, figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show.

Mental health groups and patients criticised the trust, saying placing patients away from friends and family makes it harder for them to recover.

Mother-of-three Harriet Warner, 30, of Ducklington, was diagnosed with depression after the birth of her first child five years ago, and borderline personality disorder two years ago. She said: “If they have family who can’t come and visit you it must be terrifying.

“It’s very important in recovery to be close to the people who love you, and that’s for any type of recovery whether physical or mental.

“The problem is money. The cuts are happening and the money is not being put in the right places.

“I’m not an economist, but it has been said there is a parity of esteem between physical and mental health, but there isn’t really.”

Between 2011 and 2012 the trust sent 74 people for inpatient treatment out of the area. There were 68 patients sent away from the area between 2012 and 2013.

In the first nine months of 2013/14 – the most recent figures – some 77 patients were sent further afield.

Fiona Goodall, founder of the Oxford Mental Health Forum, said: “In some cases patients are transferred for more specialist treatment.

“But it has also been reported that patients are being sent miles away due to a lack of beds and an increase in demand for services, which is extremely concerning.

“Suffering from an acute mental illness and being admitted to hospital can be a distressing time in itself, let alone being transported miles away to a completely unfamiliar environment, away from friends and family, and there are the added financial implications associated with that.”

But the trust said only “a very small percentage” of patients were sent away for treatment.

A spokesman said patients were sent outside the area when no beds were available, when patients needed specialist care and when staff were placed for confidentiality reasons.

However it could not give the Oxford Mail a breakdown of how many people for each reason.

The trust has 416 beds available for patients suffering from mental health problems, eating disorders or who are involved in police criminal investigations.

However, the number of beds available for these patients can fluctuate.

Patients involved with the police or courts can be sent out of the area – away from where they committed crimes – or if court conditions mean the trust cannot treat them.

The spokesman said the costs of sending a patient to a national unit can be “in the region of £300,000” a year.

The trust has specialist services for treating eating disorders, child and adolescent mental health problems and adult forensic cases.

In the last year the trust has opened a new adolescent unit in Oxford and an inpatient facility in Bucks.

The news comes less than two weeks since the Oxford Mail revealed mental health and community services authority Oxford Health feared a rise in suicide attempts in the face of cuts to a personality disorder support service.

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