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Norfolk MP says lack of mental health provision is a 'human rights abuse'

A Norfolk MP has said the lack of mental health provision in the Anglia region is a human rights abuse.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb’s said he was 'horrified' to read an investigation by the British Medical Association that revealed hundreds of patients are being ‘warehoused’ in privately run premises, miles away from home.

The MP also said there is no incentive for these private facilities to discharge patients, as every day they have a patient in the bed is a day they can charge the NHS for their services.

The NHS paid of £181 million last year to private firms to treat people with mental illnesses.

The BMA found that people suffering serious mental health issues were being sent hundreds of miles away for treatment, highlighting the case of one Northamptonshire patient who was sent to Glasgow for treatment in their report, published today.

Mr Lamb said that patients who are sent away to private facilities are more likely to be subject to physical force and restraint and are more likely to commit suicide.

Mental health patients are treated as 'second class citizens', says Mr Lamb Credit: PA

He said:

It is horrifying that the government remains unaccountable for these failures, while everyone is distracted by Brexit."

“I’m horrified, and frankly, I’m disgusted. It is unacceptable that people with mental health issues are getting shunted all over the country in search of a bed and then often left weeks and sometimes months on end, locked up, often when they don’t need to be locked up.

“We are routinely breaching people’s human rights in a fundamental way and nothing is changing.”

– Norman Lamb, North Norfolk MP, Lib Dem

The BMA’s report noted that the problem was particularly prevalent at the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust, where last year patients faced a round trip of upto 227 miles to get access to private care, due to a lack of local provision. Mr Lamb said:

It’s incredibly important that people can be treated close to home. If you send someone away from home, we know from the evidence that there is a greater risk of suicide after the person is discharged. What is so shocking is there are many trusts across the country who have no out of area placements at all so it is perfectly possible to achieve that. And yet there are others where the problem is a cute, particularly the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust. Which did appear to make progress a year ago but has now slipped back to a really dreadful position.”

“We know that when they are an in-patient they are frequently subject to the use of force, restraint, sometimes to force treatment of other sorts and it’s a wholly unacceptable situation which ought to be intolerable in this century but still continues.”

– Norman Lamb, North Norfolk MP, Lib Dem
Statement from Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust Credit: ITV Anglia

The BMA found that NHS Luton CCG is among several trusts who are spending their entire mental health budget on sending patients to private facilities. Last year, that was almost £2 million pounds. NHS Luton CCG has seen it's own mental health wards disappear completely, meaning they are now entirely reliant on paying private hospitals to treat their patients.

Mr Lamb said:

“It’s no good for rehabilitation whether you’re in a public or a private bed if you’re stuck hundreds of miles away from home - that is not how people recover - but there is a particular problem with private facilities.

"The fact they are run privately, and for profit, means they have a clear financial incentive to keep the person in that bed for as long as possible.

“If the patient is ‘out of sight, out of mind’, hundreds of miles from home then there’s a real risk that there’s no therapeutic value for that patient. They’re just being contained, ‘warehoused’ as the BMA has suggested.

“We are treating people with mental ill health, and incidentally people with learning difficulties and autism as second-class citizens.”

“This investigation is the perfect example of the inequality between mental ill health and physical ill health and we can see that people with mental ill health are treated as second-class citizens. They don’t get access to evidence-based care and treatment, they too often don’t get support early on to stop a deterioration of health so people end up unnecessarily being admitted and then being sent far away from home. It’s a disgrace and this government ought to be shamed for continuing this abuse.”

– Norman Lamb MP, Lib Dem
Statement from Luton CCG Credit: ITV Anglia

ITV Anglia spoke to a patient from near Colchester who was told she would have to travel to Kent for treatment when she suffered a psychotic episode last year and was sectioned.

Liz Rotherham refused to leave her home town and family, and as a result was locked in a room in what she calls 'solitary confinement'. She says she still has nightmares about the experience.

Liz Rotherham still has nightmares about being locked up Credit: ITV Anglia

"I wasn’t suicidal when I went in, but I actually did become suicidal because I was locked in a room all day with only four walls to look at.

“That would’d be horrific to anyone’s mental health, whether you were going through psychosis or not.”

– Liz Rotherham

The Royal College of Psychiatrists have joined Norman Lamb in condemning the NHS’s lack of mental health provision, saying it is failing patients like Liz.

Dr Raj Mohan, Chair of the Rehabilitation and Social Psychiatry Faculty, Royal College of Psychiatrists said:

"The data is extremely concerning. The high numbers of people with longer term serious mental illness being sent out of area for treatment shows that we are failing those who need rehabilitation care.

"When mental health rehabilitation services are offered at the right time and in the right place, they can make an enormous difference to the lives of people live with the most complex and serious forms of mental illness.

‘In many areas without rehabilitation resources, out of area care has now become the default position and CQC highlighted this in 2018. There is a huge human and financial cost to sending someone out of area. Each out of area placement is a vulnerable person sent away from their family, friends, and the places they know, and makes it harder for them to access the services they need when they are ready to live in the community again.”

– Dr Raj Mohan, Chair of the Rehabilitation and Social Psychiatry Faculty, Royal College of Psychiatrists

The BMA lead for mental health, psychiatrist, Dr Andrew Molodynski, said:

This practice goes against the very nature of rehabilitation which should be a transitional process, helping tore integrate a patient back into society.

"As seen in the cases of Whorlton Hall and Winterbourne, the 'cut-off' nature of these institutions can be a breeding ground for the development of harsh and abusive cultures. This has no place in modern mental healthcare."

– Dr Andrew Molodynski, BMA