NHS bosses have spent more than £20m over the last three years to send Hampshire mental health patients miles away from home for treatment.

Between April 2018 and April 2019 Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust placed patients in hospitals not run by the trust on 698 occasions, costing £12.6m.

A lack of beds in Hampshire and an increase in the number of patients needing acute mental health care are among the reasons for the 'Out of Area Placements' (OAPs) , a document has revealed.

Dr Nick Broughton, chief executive of Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust, said “this is probably the biggest challenge facing the organisation at the moment”.

It comes as according to the trust, figures have doubled since the 2017/18 financial year, when Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust recorded 316 admissions to beds not provided by the trust for a total cost of £6.3m.

Health bosses told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that there has been a 40 per cent reduction in OAPs over the last six weeks.

It comes as a new action plan is in place and beds are managed by local teams in North and Mid Hampshire, South West Hampshire, East Hampshire and Southampton rather than one central team across the county.

But watchdogs have warned that this is not enough and additional beds are required.

Harry Dymond, chairman of Healthwatch Southampton, said: “Healthwatch Southampton are aware of this regrettable situation and have discussed it with Southern Health FT. There is no doubt that out of area placements cause a great deal of stress to both patients and their loved ones who find visiting difficult and consequently visit less often than they would wish. The reorganisation of Southern Health, such that local teams now manage beds in their area, will help but I regret it will not completely resolve this very difficult situation and additional beds are required.”

Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust said it is planning to provide more beds within the county and confirmed that from April 2019 to date it has spent £6.2m on 245 OAPs.

A document published by Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust revealed that there is a longer average lengths of stay in Hampshire (44 days compared to the national average of 32) – “with 39 per cent of beds occupied by patients who have been in them more than 100 days.”

A spokesman for the trust said at the moment  ten Hampshire patients are in a  private hospital within the county while  35 patients are placed in hospitals outside Hampshire with one of them being in Darlington and 94% of them being within 99 miles of their home address.

Kevin Gardner,  CEO at mental health charity Solent Mind, stressed the importance of having a local support network for mental health patients.

He said: “For someone facing a mental health crisis, being placed in an unfamiliar environment, far from home, is a barrier to recovery, making it more difficult for family, friends and carers to visit, support and stay in touch. Building on the person’s own strengths and local support network is key to enabling recovery and staying well in their own community.”

Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust  said it is working with housing providers to create alternatives to hospital for people in crisis.

The trust  has also launched the NHS 111 mental health triage service to provide better access and support for people in crisis 24/7 .

Dr Broughton said: “It is completely unacceptable for patients and their families to travel long distances to receive care that should be available in their home county. This puts additional strain on people already in distress, and has an impact on their recovery.

“If a patient requires hospital care, our staff always seek to identify a bed within the local area. Unfortunately in some cases it is necessary to look further afield to ensure a patient’s needs are met.

“This is a significant national challenge for the NHS, and one we are taking very seriously in Hampshire. We are working alongside our commissioners and partners to ensure people can access care as close to their homes and loved ones as possible. Our action plan has led to a reduction in the number of people receiving care out of area, and we are absolutely committed to eliminating all out of area placements that are not clinically indicated.”