NHS England sending anorexic patients to Scotland for treatment.


Mental health experts voice concern over growing trend and say it could increase vulnerable patients’ chances of dying

NHS hospital
The NHS in England has far too few beds to cope with rising numbers of eating disorders, doctors say.

The NHS in England is sending patients who are seriously ill with eating disorders to Scotland for treatment because chronic bed shortages mean they cannot be cared for in England.

Vulnerable patients, mainly teenagers and young adults, are being taken hundreds of miles from their homes in order to receive residential care in Glasgow and near Edinburgh.

Mental health experts voiced deep concern about the trend and said it could damage patients’ chances of recovery, increase their sense of isolation through the separation from their families and even increase their risk of dying.

“I’ve seen a rise in calls from people saying their children have been sent far away, miles away, to be looked after because there are either no services nearby or they are full”, said Jane Smith, chief executive of Anorexia and Bulimia Care. “This is a life-threatening situation for young people. People are in inpatient care because they are at risk of dying. They are in a very fragile, risky state.”

Rebecca Doidge, 20, from St Albans in Hertfordshire, spent six months in the Priory private hospital in Glasgow earlier this year because she was desperate for treatment and could not find anywhere else. The distance had negative side-effects, she said.

Despite being well looked after there, “being sent so far away does compromise care”, she said. “The outcomes are going to be better if you can stay near home. It’s really hard to integrate back home or go to another environment when discharged if you are in a different country. It makes communication between those treating you in hospital and those at home difficult.”

During her stay in the Priory, which has 25-30 beds, “about seven of the people there were from Hertfordshire,” she said. “The number of English people there massively outnumbered Scots.”

Anup Vyas’s stepdaughter has been receiving treatment for a rare eating disorder in Huntercombe private hospital in Livingston, near Edinburgh, since February. After previous stints in units in Watford, London and Colchester in Essex, the 17-year-old’s condition is so serious that “now she is basically being kept alive in Scotland”, said Vyas.

“NHS England acknowledge that her being so far away is not ideal. Her brothers haven’t visited her since June and no friends have gone up. Most people in the unit are from England, especially the north of England – places like York and Manchester.” The family’s home is in Hemel Hempstead, 350 miles from Livingston.

“It is clearly unacceptable for people to be sent hundreds of miles away for care at a time when they need the support of friends and family the most”, he said. “That’s why in April we committed to a national ambition to eliminate inappropriate out-of-area placements by 2020-21.” Ministers had also earmarked £150m for enhanced services in community settings to help ensure that mental health problems in young people were tackled before their health wosens, he said.

NHS England, despite its professed commitment to openness, refused to say how many patients from England were receiving treatment for eating disorders in Scotland. Expanding the supply of specialist beds to treat people with those conditions would take time, it said.

“It’s extremely distressing for parents to have a child who is so unwell that they require inpatient care, and it’s even worse when they can’t easily visit their child because of long travel distances”, said Sarah Brennan, chief executive of Young Minds. “For many young people the distance from family and friends is one of their biggest fears when they are hospitalised. Being separated from loved ones doesn’t help with recovery and makes the stress of hospitalisation worse.”

 Dr Jon Goldin, a consultant psychiatrist in London specialising in children and adolescents, said he had heard of patients being moved long distances. “But it shouldn’t be happening,” he said. “It’s a concern. Patients should be treated nearby and should be in contact with family. They need support and it’s much harder to get that when families have to travel long distances.

“Part of their recovery may involve therapy with their family, especially for children aged 14 and under.”, said Goldin, who is also a spokesman for the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

More young people were developing eating disorders, he said. Genetic factors, personality factors and socio-cultural factors, such as images in the media of models “which glamorise thinness” are among the many reasons for the trend, Goldin said.

A spokeswoman for the Priory hospital in Glasgow said it took patients from all over the UK. “The Priory hospital in Glasgow has a reputation for providing some of the highest standards of mental healthcare in the country, and has been given a ‘very good’ rating by our regulator, Healthcare Improvement Scotland, for staffing, management, information to patients, and the environment it offers those we care for. As such, we support patients from across the UK and overseas.”

A spokeswoman for NHS England said: “The NHS recently laid out very clear plans to expand staff and services for specialist eating disorders and other mental health problems, in order to tackle and eliminate distant out-of-area placements. Transformation won’t happen overnight but work is under way to improve services for everyone and to make sure care is available at home or as close to home as possible when a patient needs more intensive therapy.

“To help achieve this, the government has allocated a cumulative £1.4bn to children and young people’s mental health services over the next five years, and the new waiting time for eating disorder patients will ensure patients get better care more quickly.”

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One thought on “NHS England sending anorexic patients to Scotland for treatment.

  1. I spend 2 years as an Irish teen over in st.andrews in Northampton. I was sent away from my family. My home. My country. Because ours didn’t have the services. While in the UK I shared the ward with teenage girls from Wales and Scotland. At this point these girls were being transferred a 12hour journey away from their homes to this well known abusive psychiatric unit of St.Andrews. They Did this back then and they will do it now. Everywhere is crippling with the weight and pressure of the younger generations mental health and difficulties. Sending someone to Scotland for treatment or because of a shortage of beds won’t have any effect if after there is no aftercare. Follow ups. Crisis team. Discharge plans. Early interventions. It’s not about spending money. It’s about saving life’s. And as a whole be it Ireland. England. Scotland or America they need to come to realise that the need is so much higher than what they are supplying. They need to put their heads together. Make the decisions and put in the resources. Before. During or after. The only way for this to change is for the countries come together and so far that hasn’t happened. When it will happen I don’t know. But it needs to happen. And something drastic needs to change because they are losing children. Adolescents. Adults. Every life is precious. Every being deserves to have confidence in their counties healthcare system. And that many people don’t have. With good reason. But every life is a life too many. And I can only hope some day somewhere it will be better.

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