NHS Borders defends mental health treatment figures

Huntlyburn House near Melrose.
Huntlyburn House near Melrose.

NHS Borders has defended figuring which show that almost 100 mental health patients in the Borders have been sent to other health boards for treatment in the past three years.

The figure, the fourth highest in Scotland behind NHS Fife, NHS Highlands and NHS Grampian, was announced in response to a freedom of information request from the Scottish Conservastive party this month.

Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk MP John Lamont, this week claimed the numbers were too high.

“It is understandable that in exceptional circumstances it will be in a patient’s best interest to be sent elsewhere for treatment,” he said. “However, mental health patients can be very vulnerable and sending people away from their homes and families should be avoided where possible.

“It does seem that NHS Borders are sending patients to other parts of Scotland on a more regular basis than most health boards. This calls into question whether they are getting the support they need from the Scottish Government, who have claimed mental health is a priority.”

However, NHS Borders medical director Dr Cliff Sharp said: “The reason we may use regional facilities more than other health boards is because we have a smaller population, which means that such highly specialist inpatient units would not be viable locally.

NHS Borders Mental Health Service received over 4000 referrals in the last 12 months, with most treatment and care delivered in community settings, so only a very small proportion of people with particularly severe disorders require inpatient hospital care outwith NHS Borders facilities.”

He added most patients are accessing treatment facilities in Livingston and Edinburgh through regional collaborations between NHS trusts in Lothian, Borders and Fife.

“Most patients are accessing the treatment facilities in the regional mother and baby unit, the regional eating disorders unit or the intensive psychiatric care unit, which are wards based within St Johns Hospital in Livingston, or the young people’s unit at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital,” he explained.

“All of these are set up as regional collaborations between NHS Lothian, NHS Borders and NHS Fife, with admission rights for local clinicians.

“We are pleased that the number of Borders patients requiring highly specialist inpatient care has reduced over the last three years: from 42 in 2014/15 to 28 in 2015/16 and then 24 in 2016/17.”

Rachael Hamilton MSP for Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire added: “All sides of the political debate in Scotland agree that mental health should be treated as seriously as physical health. But if that’s to be the case, people need to be able to rely on their local health board for treatment as far as possible.

“These figures suggest that despite having a smaller population, NHS Borders is sending above average numbers of patients to other health boards. A round trip of 376 miles to access mental health treatment seems difficult to justify.

“In order to be able to get these figures down, the Scottish Government needs to do more to support NHS Borders in providing the specialist treatment patients need. Patients should have access to the best possible care here in the Borders, not elsewhere.”