DOCTORS’ leaders have criticised the “shocking” number of mental health patients in Hampshire who are being sent long distances for treatment.

The British Medical Association (BMA) says a shortage of beds in the area covered by the Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust meant 248 patients in Hampshire and Oxfordshire had to be treated in other parts of the country in the previous financial year.

The average round trip took almost four hours by car and seven by public transport.

Nationally almost 6,000 mental health patients had to be sent some distance from their local area, with some travelling hundreds of miles according to NHS figures.

Data obtained by the BMA shows the number of patients travelling long distances for care in England has risen by 40 per cent in two years.

In 2016/17, 5,876 travelled out of their area for treatment, up on 4,213 in 2014/15.

Dr Andrew Molodynski of the BMA consultants’ committee said: “This level of disruption can be severely distressing for a patient whose recovery can be impeded by the insecurity and unfamiliarity of being placed in a setting further away from relatives and friends who may, understandably, be unable to make the journey as often as they would like.

“Patients are being failed by a system at breaking point.

“The government must take urgent action by providing the necessary investment in services, including beds where needed. Without this, the crisis in mental health will only get worse and even more patients and their families will suffer.”

But Calmore-based Southern Health said it was “working hard” to tackle the issue.

Mark Morgan, director of operations (mental health, learning disabilities & social care) at the trust, said: “Ensuring our patients are able to receive the treatment they need close to home is one of our top priorities.

“A key aim of our new clinical services strategy is to reduce out-of-area placements and we are already working hard to achieve this.

“We are working to solve this in three ways - improving the support we can offer in the community to people in crisis, reducing delays to discharge from hospital, and working with other organisations to support people at an earlier stage of their illness.”