by Rebecca Muller, Editorial Fellow at Thrive Global
When an individual struggles with mental health, almost all experts have a similar response: Seek help. Reach out. Use your voice. Search for a listening ear, and allow yourself to find a safe space. Checking into a recovery center to cope with mental illness can be key for some people’s recovery, which is why, in light of new data that reveals patients throughout the UK are being turned away due to lack of beds, audiences are dismayed and are demanding systemic change.
The findings, reported in a recent piece in The Guardian, reveals that due to bed shortages across the National Health Service, patients are being turned away from help centers, and even sent to travel the over 300 miles to their homes before they have recovered. The NHS data shows that there were 515 recorded “out-of-area placements” across the UK within a 12-month span, and in some cases, patients were forced to spend over a year away from the center, and were left without the care they need for their recovery.
The practice of “out-of-area placements” across the UK is disorienting for patients facing mental health crises, and advocates are asking for more beds, and better attention to mental health needs, starting from the top. “The overwhelming evidence is that out-of-area placements do serious harm to the recovery of people with mental health conditions,” says Barbara Keeley, UK Parliament member shadow and minister for mental health. “The government is categorically failing to reduce their use.”
Even executives at the NHS are criticizing the distressing practice, and they say that changes need to be implemented across the board in order to make a real difference. “We still don’t have enough of the right mental health beds commissioned in the right places, given the rate at which demand is increasing,” says deputy chief executive Saffron Cordery, in a statement. “We don’t do this to patients with physical health issues and we shouldn’t be doing it for patients with mental health issues.”
And while citizens are urging individuals in charge to take action on the problematic practice, executives at the NHS say that additional investment in the mental health system is needed in order to expand services and fix the current system. “It’s not good for the service users involved and it’s poor value for the money,” Cordery says. “But until the promised additional investment for mental health actually translates into extra beds in the right place, it’s still going to happen.”