PATIENTS suffering a mental health crisis are being hospitalised in private units hundreds of miles from home because of a national shortage of NHS beds.

Aberdeen, Cardiff and London were among the 19 different locations where 59 residents from Cumbria were sent across the UK in search of specialist help between April 2016 and February this year.

Just two of the units were in NHS hospitals – with the remainder all operated by private firms.

The move cost the county's health budget £3,734,103 – an increase of more than £365,000 on the previous 12 months when 77 people were treated outside of the area.

Bosses within the Cumbria Partnership NHS Foundation Trust as well as those within North Cumbria Clinical Commissioning Group, the organisation that was responsible for buying in services for the whole county last year, said decisions to refer people out of the area were taken with their families whenever possible.

A statement issued jointly on behalf of the two groups states: "We work closely with our partner organisations to ensure, where possible, patients can be treated close to home.

"However unfortunately sometimes the conditions and symptoms that a patient has mean they require more intensive or specialist support than we are able to provide in our facilities and services.

"In these cases we need to widen our search for the right place to meet the patient’s needs.

"These decisions are not taken lightly and are always made with the best interests of the patient in mind."

CPFT has its own specialist inpatient beds for people suffering a crisis episode as well as psychiatric intensive care and dementia beds.

But the information, collated by the British Medical Association, reveals Cumbrian patients were sent to seven different Priory hospitals last year, three owned by the Cambrian Group and two owned by Cygnet Health Care.

The average round trip for the families and friends of those placed in out of area beds – known nationally as OOAs – was five hours and 18 minutes.

Those using public transport were left with an average round trip of eight hours and 14 minutes, the BMA found.

Barrow and Furness MP John Woodcock was critical of placing vulnerable people so far from home.

"Being placed outside of the county for care is incredibly distressing for patients and their families who have to travel many miles to be with their loved ones.

"I have worked with the local NHS to try to secure more placements within the county, especially for dementia patients, but the number forced to leave Cumbria is still too high."

Mr Woodcock added: "More needs to be done and with our local NHS still under massive pressure the last thing we need is for the government to go ahead with the huge cuts they have planned for the NHS in our area, that would only make this situation even worse."

:: Cumbria has its own inpatient mental health beds for adults, though none for children.

:: However, patients can be referred out of the county when there is no space left in Cumbria.

:: People who require help for rare or complex conditions which requires treatment not available in Cumbria are often transferred out of the county to the nearest available bed.

:: Numbers of out of area placements are rising UK-wide – up 40 per cent from 4.213 in 2014/15 to 5,876 last year, according to the BMA.

:: Being placed in an unfamiliar area, away from family and friends, while recovering from an acute episode of mental illness can slow recovery rates.

:: An investigation by The Mail in 2015 revealed children as young as 11 from Cumbria are sent to inpatient units across the UK because the county has no Tier 4 provision.