Legal highs and foreigners blamed for Islington mental health patients being sent as far away as Somerset
PUBLISHED: 11:45 04 September 2014 | UPDATED: 11:45 04 September 2014
A mental health trust says it has been forced to send patients as far away as Somerset because of a “rise in use of legal highs, more foreign patients and people becoming depressed due to the recession”.
Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust (CANDI) – which has made dramatic cuts to its bed and nursing levels – defended figures that show its capacity and staffing have been some of the worst hit in the country over the past three years.
It insisted it had consulted properly before carrying out the cuts, but blamed an increase in the number of patients it now has to send elsewhere on an “unexpected rise in demand for services”.
It follows a nationwide investigation into all mental health providers by medical magazine Health Service Journal (HSJ) which showed an overall reduction in the number of beds, staffing and funding in the mental health sector.
Figures obtained by the HSJ – and provided to the Ham&High – found that when compared with all 57 NHS mental health providers, CANDI was one of the worst affected.
Between 2011 and 2014, the trust had lost the second highest proportion of its beds, 19.1 per cent, and the highest proportion of its nurses, 18 per cent.
Over the same period, the number of patients being sent by the trust to be treated elsewhere jumped from 89 to 171.
With some patients sent as far away as Somerset and Stevenage, and others to private hospitals around London, these “out of area” placements can be expensive and are widely considered to be poor practice.
Wendy Wallace, chief executive of CANDI, was adamant the decision to cut beds was “right for the time it was made”, adding that the trust was “expanding care in the community”.
She said: “In 2011 we were seeing a number of our beds lying empty when government funding was falling. So at the time the decision to cut beds was right – which obviously leads to the loss of nurses tending those beds.
“But since then we’ve seen a rise in demand. Legal highs are definitely an issue, causing illnesses like psychosis. There are also more foreign nationals coming into the area and more cases of depression linked to the recession. It may be that now we do need to look at adding some more beds.”
She said that government cuts to mental health services had left “no flexibility to deal with increased demand”, adding: “There are limits as to how far we can be pushed.”
Both Camden and Islington have a disproportionately high number of residents with mental illnesses.
Those working in the sector have long complained mental health has always been “chronically underfunded” and that staff are a risk of “burnout”.
Nik Masters, a Swiss Cottage resident who was governor at CANDI for four years, says he has seen care for his mentally ill wife decline since the cuts.
He said: “My wife has not seen her service team from CANDI for three-and-a-half months.
“The nurses say its because of work pressures, so it’s through no fault of their own – it’s the cuts.
“The crisis service is also not working. I end up having to go to A&E when I need help, where the nurses aren’t trained properly to deal with mental health issues.”
Another Camden resident, who cares for his adult son and who did not want to be named, said: “We used to have a community nurse who knew our son better than we did. She got downgraded and we never heard from anyone for 18 months.”
“When I ring up the crisis service for help they often tell me they can’t help until the next day and tell me to ring 999.
“What’s going to happen to our son when my wife and I are gone?”