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Revealed: Mental health beds sit empty as patients sent miles for treatment

  • Click below to watch the full ITV Anglia exclusive.

Mental health beds are sitting empty in our region while patients are sent hundreds of miles away for treatment, it can be revealed.

Clinical psychologist Chris McKenna has spent £2m transforming his family home in Rougham, near Bury St Edmunds, into a 12-bed inpatient facility for people with serious mental health conditions.

He decided to found 'The Chimneys' after watching his daughter Claire battle anorexia.

The unit, which also has lounges, therapy and treatment rooms, was registered by the Care Quality Commission in March.

But NHS England, which commissions inpatient beds, won't pay for people to go there as they're tied into contracts with other private providers.

"We have 12 beds that are approved by the CQC, state-of-the-art in terms of the facilities they provide and yet they're empty. That's a crazy situation."

– Chris McKenna, founder of The Chimneys

It comes as vulnerable, severely-ill people are sent hundreds of miles away for the mental health care they need.

Over the last year, in Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex alone, patients have spent more than 20,000 'bed days' out of area.

NHS England says it sympathises with The Chimney's situation and that it's reviewing its provision for mental health inpatient beds.

The Chimneys has been registered with the CQC since March. Credit: ITV News Anglia

"We would be unable to change the provider we are contracted with to a new provider in the middle of a contract unless we had serious quality concerns. "However, as the review gets underway, we will be looking to see if additional capacity for adult eating disorder beds in the region is required sooner. In that circumstance a full procurement exercise would be undertaken."

– NHS England

Bury St Edmunds MP Jo Churchill says she has visited The Chimneys and raised the issue with NHS commissioners and ministers.

"I feel incredulous that this is the case. The minimum we should be able to do from this is use it as a learning curve so that we make sure that facilities such as this can actually be put to good use and we can make sure that other people are treated quickly and near to their home."

– Jo Churchill MP
Chris McKenna spent £2m transforming his family home into The Chimneys. Credit: ITV News Anglia

One family, who wanted to remain anonymous, are travelling hundreds of miles every week to see their daughter while she is treated for an eating disorder in London.

They were desperate for her to go to The Chimneys but their request was refused.

"I think it's inhuman actually. I've watched other families being torn apart by the distance and where their children are placed and trying to balance it with younger children. They're suddenly away, miles from home, it's horrific."

– Mother