MENTAL health patients in Oxfordshire have been wrenched from their families and forced to travel as far as Scotland to receive care and treatment.

As many as 478 residents with mental health problems have been sent out of the county in the past three years, with the furthest travelling 532 miles to New Craigs Hospital in Inverness.

The British Medical Association (BMA) found that patients of Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust had to travel some of the greatest distances of anyone in the country.

Mental health lead for the BMA Dr Andrew Molodynski, who works in Didcot, said: “There have been progressive cuts to mental health beds nationally over recent years.

“Across the South East we are seeing people turn up in the middle of the night in crisis but there is sometimes no bed for them.

“Rather than send them home, it is safer to find them a bed elsewhere.

“It is never a good thing as it makes it more difficult for families and friends to visit and it creates a distance between the person and their community teams.”

What's more, the average round trip for patients in Oxfordshire forced to get out of county care is going up, increasing from 3.59 hours in 2014/15 to 17.44 hours in 2016/17.

The trust has had to spend more than £7m since 2014 to send patients to other psychiatric wards in the UK.

Dr Molodynski said more needs to be done to stop people getting to the point where they are in ‘absolute crisis.’

He added: “Since these FOI requests were made by the BMA, Oxford Health has made significant improvements to reduce the number of people they send out of area.

“Managers, doctors, and ward and community teams have worked incredibly hard on a daily basis to reduce and stop this practice and numbers have massively reduced over recent months.

“Hardly anyone from Oxfordshire is currently out of area for these reasons, and this is from the sheer hard work of staff and our work with partners like Response to find appropriate supported housing for people who need it more quickly.”

The trust said it has now introduced an integrated system where senior clinical staff from the wards and community teams discuss patients’ needs and bed availability on a daily basis.

Chris Kearney, a spokesman for Oxford Health, said: “Sending someone who is acutely unwell to a hospital miles away from their home can have a significant impact on both their and their carers’ experience.

“By discussing patients’ needs on a daily basis, we are able to provide the treatment they need in the right place and time.

“On the occasions where the use of an out of area bed is unavoidable we will maintain an oversight of their care and work to get them back home or on a ward closer to their home as soon as possible.”