NHS mental health hospitals in Hampshire are “bursting” after more than a third of beds for people suffering from severe mental illness were axed.
Bed occupancy rates rose to 100 per cent last August and September, the latest figures show.
Six psychiatric patients were sent to The Priory in the New Forest because no NHS beds were available. The private hospital is best known for treating celebrities.
Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust, (SHFT), which runs mental health services, paid £66,548 for 127 days of care at The Priory in Marchwood last October. This is equal to £524 per patient a day.
The NHS trust also opened “contingency beds” in its own mental health units to cope with demand.
The bed shortages come after SHFT closed 58 beds, including 24 at Woodhaven in Calmore – a move fiercely opposed by New Forest East MP Dr Julian Lewis, patients and relatives.
The Tory MP feared patients’ lives could be at risk under plans to reduce acute mental health beds commissioned across the county from 165 in January 2012 to 107 last July.
However health bosses insisted most patients want to be cared for at home and promised no patient in need of a hospital bed would be denied one.
As previously reported, SHFT aimed to save £4.8m over three years, £1.5m of which would be ploughed into strengthening “hospital at home” treatment.
Dr Lewis described figures showing no spare NHS beds available for most of August and all of September as “disturbing.”
He said: “We do not know whether the system has remained full to bursting in the past three months but we do know that it was struggling to cope last August and September.
“Closing 58 beds was bound to have a huge impact and it now seems doubtful if any money will be saved given the costs of putting people in private hospital beds.
He added: “The trust was right to promise that no patient needing a bed would be refused one even if this involves commissioning private beds but that will be terribly expensive in the long-run.”
Dr Lewis also raised concerns the “bar could be raised” for in-patient treatment because of the lack of NHS beds.
The trust is due to present bed occupancy figures for October, November and December to the county council’s Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee later this month.
Councillors on the committee approved the bed closure plans last year despite serious concerns raised.
At the last HOSC meeting, chairman councillor Pat West criticised the trust after it failed to make clear there was a bed shortage.
Cllr West made a plea for an “accurate and transparent” picture. Figures presented to the committee failed to show when demand exceeded beds available.
Data subsequently obtained by the Chronicle shows up to seven NHS contingency beds were brought into use last August and six at the Priory Hospital in October.
A spokesman for SHFT said no private patients were admitted to private beds in September. The trust provides acute mental health services to Hampshire, including Southampton city.
In a statement the trust said: “We are confident that we have enough acute mental health beds to meet the needs of the people who use our services.
“The demand on, and availability of beds can fluctuate, for many reasons, and so we have procedures in place to make sure an acute mental health bed will always be made available for anybody who needs one.
“These plans include the use of contingency beds that can be made available within our units, and having access to beds in other organisations, including local NHS trusts and the private sector. This is standard practice and not an 'emergency measure'."