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  1. ITV Report

Mental health patients forced to travel from Wales to London for anorexia treatment

Mental health provision can be a postcode lottery in Wales, especially away from the more populated areas.

One patient with personal experience of this is 21-year-old Mair Elliott.

She has a history of mental illness, including depression and anxiety, dating back to her childhood and was diagnosed with anorexia at 17.

But when she needed hospital treatment, Mair had to travel to London to get it.

She told ITV News: “I needed specialist treatments and that came in the form of having to go into hospital.

“However, there weren’t any beds in Wales and there weren’t any beds any closer to me than in London, so I spent three and a half months in an in-patient bed in London.”

916
Number of people in Wales waiting for mental health treatment in May 2011
1,831
Number of people in Wales waiting for mental health treatment in May 2018

Mair's recovery has been a complex process and she still requires hospital treatment. Even now, years on from her initial diagnosis, the services available in Wales have not improved for her or anyone else needing similar treatment. For Mair, this means a long journey from Tenby in west Wales.

“There are no specialist in-patient beds for eating disorders in Wales and so if someone was to require eating disorder treatment they’d have to go outside to England,” she said.

Mair says that having to travel like this when in the grip of a mental illness can be detrimental to the recovery process.

Most mental health patients in Wales don’t need to leave the country to get treatment, but even those facilities that do exist are not always being used to their full potential.

The Gellinudd Recovery Centre is an in-patient service in Pontardawe run by Welsh charity Hafal. The secure unit feels more like a hotel than a hospital – patients are referred to as “guests” – but with the referral process to the centre often drawn-out, many of the beds are left empty.

When ITV News visited, only five of the 16 beds were in use.

Patients at the Gellinudd Recovery Centre referred to as “guests”. Credit: ITV News

Senior consultant Helen Bennett believes they could achieve much more if the spaces were filled.

“We’re quite unique, I don’t think there’s anywhere like this in the UK,” she said.

“We’ve had some really good outcomes so far for individuals, people are progressing really well in quite a short period of time.”

According to Welsh Government figures, the number of NHS beds available for mental illness has decreased from an average 2,061 a day in 2009/10 to 1,552 in 2016/17. It says this in part due to more care being delivered close to home, rather than in acute settings.

Welsh health minister Vaughan Gething said progress has been made. Credit: ITV News

The Welsh Government is working to reduce the number of patients being treated outside the country and ensure that existing facilities are used properly.

Health minister Vaughan Gething said progress has been made but there is still work to be done.

“What we have now is a base to deliver further improvement on and that improvement is absolutely required,” he told ITV News.

  • For more information or if you know of anyone who would like advice or support about a mental health problem, you can visit any of the following websites: