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Health board spends millions sending patients overseas for treatment

More than £2.5 million has been spent in each of the past four years sending patients with personality disorders outside Northern Ireland for treatment
John Monaghan

MORE than £2.5 million is being spent each year sending patients with a diagnosed personality disorder out of Northern Ireland for treatment.

Since 2012, the Health and Social Care Board has incurred costs of £10.2m referring patients to locations outside the north for NHS services.

The figures were disclosed in a Freedom of Information request seen by The Irish News.

The cost was highest in 2013-14, at almost £2.6m, dropping to £2.3m in 2015-16.

In June 2010, then Health Minister Michael McGimpsey produced a Personality Disorder Strategy, following on from the earlier Bamford Review which also made a number of recommendations.

The 2010 report stated: "In Northern Ireland there are currently no dedicated personality disorder services.

"A specific prioritised role....would be to minimise the need for transfer of people outside Northern Ireland for treatment.

"The needs of people with a personality disorder and the paucity of local services have been highlighted in the Bamford Review."

It added: "The government response to Bamford....recognised the need to develop a range of services for people with a personality disorder. With the development of local specialist services a key role will be provision of appropriate interventions to minimise such transfers."

However, the report also set back the development of a specialist in-patient unit within Northern Ireland.

"The experienced professionals required to establish and sustain such an in-patient unit are currently not available in Northern Ireland in sufficient numbers...in addition, the cost....would appear to be prohibitive."

A further report by the Department of Health in 2014, assessing the implementation of recommendations in the Bamford Review, noted that some progress had been made but more remained to be done.

"Community based personality disorder services are operational in all five trusts. A regional clinical network to share services, skills and expertise....is in place and

continues to take forward work in this area."

Ulster Unionist health spokeswoman and Upper Bann MLA Jo-Anne Dobson said she was "deeply concerned" at the trend.

Mrs Dobson said: "It appears that progress over recent years has stalled and that further investment in specialist services is now required in order to ensure local patients are receiving appropriate and timely care."

In its response to the FOI request, the Health and Social Care Board said there were various reasons why patients could not be treated closer to home.

It said: "This may be either because the treatment needed is of a specialist nature which is not available in Northern Ireland or because there is a clinical reason why the local service is not appropriate.

"Due to the very complex needs of individual patients with a diagnosis associated with personality disorder, treatment tends to be better facilitated outside Northern Ireland."

The HSCB added that there are "no plans to change the system" of referring patients away from the north, despite the huge cost.

"At present there are no plans to change the system of accessing appropriate specialist treatment in the United Kingdom (or elsewhere) on behalf of individual

Northern Ireland residents when this is required to meet their clinical needs."

Earlier this year, then Health Minister Simon Hamilton confirmed that the HSCB was to be abolished, but there has been no details yet of when it will close.

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