HEALTH bosses have spent more than £1million paying for Sunderland patients to be treated at non-NHS hospitals, the Echo can reveal today.
Figures show that £1,003,390.51 was used to help just seven mental health patients receive treatment at private units, clinics or hospitals outside of the Wearside area.
Health leaders have defended the spend, claiming “bespoke” packages are occasionally needed to provide the best treatment to individuals.
But mental health charity bosses argue the paying for services reveals only further evidence the area is struggling to cope when it comes to providing care.
Dorothy Gardiner, project manager for Sunderland Mind, said: “Continued cuts to funding for mental health services are taking a significant toll on the quality and availability of services in our area.
“We are facing a large number of cutbacks in mental health provision here.
“Sending patients out of the area can also be expensive for carers and families. We would always want to provide care for people where they live.”
The £1million covers the 2013/14 period and was used to support the seven patients, which has since been reduced to six.
A spokesperson for Sunderland Clinical Commissioning Group, who purchased the out-of-area services, said: “When providing care for mental health patients, people are reviewed individually and the most appropriate care/treatment package is put in place, according to their individual assessed needs.
“For each patient, we identify care and treatment needs and often look at bespoke packages in order to deliver this within our area.
“It is only as a last resort that we purchase care out of the Sunderland area.
“We then review the individual’s treatment regularly with the aim of returning the patient to the Sunderland area as soon as possible.”
The figures come amid concerns that mental health hospital services in the region are becoming increasingly squeezed.
Last month, mental health bosses revealed the number of beds for patients could be cut at Sunderland’s Cherry Knowle Hospital – with nursing jobs also set to go.
Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust have said that two psychiatric intensive care units are set to be merged.
Cherry Knowle’s Dene ward and the Greentrees Ward at St Nicholas Hospital in Newcastle both have 14 beds, but a merger of the two is planned to create a single 14-bed facility at the new Hopewood Park in Ryhope, which is due to open this summer.
Also, as part of changes to the current inpatient care system, more services could be delivered in the community, meaning that about 90 beds across the trust’s Sunderland, South Tyneside and Gateshead sites could be axed.
Earlier this week, concerns were raised that a lack of mental health beds is forcing patients to seek treatment in other NHS facilities up to hundreds of miles away.
The number of patients, nationally, travelling to seek emergency treatment has more than doubled in two years – from 1,301 people in 2011-12 to 3,024 in 2013-14.
Health minister Norman Lamb said out-of-area treatment was a “last resort”.