SERIOUSLY ill mental health patients from the region are being 'warehoused' in privately-run homes often hundreds of miles away from their families, figures show.

The British Medical Association's investigation revealed that the practice of NHS patients with severe mental health issues being sent often hundreds of miles from home is widespread.

Patients are being admitted to these private wards, isolated from family members and with little to no contact with NHS doctors overseeing their treatment.

And with recent scandals in private hospitals such as Whorlton Hall, near Barnard Castle, the BMA said the 'cut off' nature of the patients' care in these institutions could be 'a breeding ground for the development of harsh and abusive cultures'.

Organisations which provided data included Darlington's Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) which showed a £1m increase in rehab beds between 2016 and 2018, with the increase fuelled entirely by non-NHS expenditure. Just £670,000 was spent on NHS care with £2.5m spent on non-NHS provision up from £1.5m in 2016/2017. Patients were an average five-hour round trip away from home.

The South Tees CCG spent a massive £12.5m on rehab beds last year, up from £8.1m in 2016-17, and £10m of that was on non-NHS expenditure, with patients again an average five-hour round trip from home. Some patients were as far away as a ten-hour round trip away from home, or 280 miles away.

And in Hartlepool and Stockton on Tees CCG's area, spending on mental health beds last year was £9.8m, £7.6m of that on non-NHS beds. Spending had increased by over £3.5m from 2016/17.

Gary Emerson, chief executive officer of Darlington Mind said: “It really is a disgrace that so much of our taxpayers' funding is being spent in the private sector and not in the NHS.

"In Darlington many people are having to travel for more than five hours to see their loved ones in these out of area placements and this is not good for the patient or for the family.

"Darlington Mind calls on commissioners to divert this money back into the NHS and into voluntary sector agencies providing services rather than in the private sector.”

Mental health rehabilitation which provides intensive support for severely-ill patients to help get their lives back on track costs the NHS £535m a year, but research found to last twice as long in the private sector as in the NHS.

The BMA's lead for mental health, psychiatrist Dr Andrew Molodynski, said: "This has no place in modern mental healthcare. There are no positives here for patients, families, care services, or the public purse – quite the opposite. We need to ensure care is available closer to home to give patients the best possible chance of recovery."