Norman Lamb leads debate on mental health out-of-area placements

Norman Lamb, MP for North Norfolk, led a debate yesterday (3rd December) in the House of Commons to highlight the scandal of out-of-area mental health placements.

This is the practice of shunting people around the country to receive care during a mental health crisis. It usually happens because there are no available beds in the local area, and there have been numerous reports of people being sent hundreds of miles away from home to receive the support they need.

Being sent out-of-area during a mental health crisis – far away from someone’s family and friends – can be an extremely distressing and frightening experience. Evidence also indicates that being treated out-of-area significantly increases the risk of suicide after being discharged from hospital.  

Despite this, however, there were at least 501 people in a non-specialist mental health bed more than 50km away from their homes at the end of August, according to the latest figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre. The total number of out-of-area placements is also continuing to rise, increasing by 23% to 4,447 last year (based on research by Community Care and BBC News).

Speaking in the House of Commons debate, Norman Lamb said:

“Such a practice would never be tolerated in physical health services. Let us imagine, for example, someone who had had a stroke or with a heart condition being taken by ambulance […] to Cumbria from Norfolk. It would be an outrage. It would be regarded as a scandal, so it does not happen – yet it happens every week of the year in mental health. I regard that as discrimination at the heart of our NHS and it is one of the very many examples of how people who suffer from acute mental ill health are disadvantaged by the system.”

Norman Lamb challenged the Government to commit to ending the practice completely within 12 months. The Minister for Community and Social Services, Alistair Burt, responded by pledging to “address” out-of-area mental health placements but fell short of committing to eliminate the practice entirely.

The Minister will provide details of his plan to reduce out-of-area mental health placements by the end of April 2016, after the publication of reports by NHS England’s Mental Health Taskforce and Lord Crisp’s Commission on Acute Adult Psychiatric Care.

Norman Lamb said:

“This is not a difficult issue. It should become what in the NHS is known as a ‘never event’ – it should never happen. If we know that there is a link between out-of-area placements and an increased risk of suicide, how can we tolerate it? I set the objective of ending it within 12 months. That is achievable, provided that there is drive, ambition and purpose to make it happen.”

Norman Lamb and the Liberal Democrats continue to lead the fight to achieve genuine equality for people with mental ill health. 

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