A £2MILLION fund has been set aside to tackle the shortage of mental health beds in the county,

Lancashire & South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust has announced the 11 new beds will be set up at Preston Royal Hospital and will allow doctors to provide specialist support to to patients from across the county with mental health needs.

The beds are expected to reduce the number of people with mental health issues being sent to other parts of the country due to bed shortages, or people with mental health issues visiting hospital accident and emergency departments.

Last year the Lancashire Telegraph revealed two men from Blackburn had to go as far as Plymouth and Southampton for treatment because there were no mental health beds locally.

The practice, known as out-of-area placements (OAPs), happens when there is no local hospital bed for the patient.

In recent years both Lancashire Police and the British Transport Police have spoken out after their officers have had to wait with people in mental health crisis for more than 15 hours for beds to become available.

In 2018 Assistant Chief Constable Terry Woods cited examples in which his officers waited for 64 hours in a mental health decision unit and A&E with a woman due to there being no psychiatric beds, while in another case officers waited with a patient for 40 hours for suitable care.

However, Dr Richard Morgan, medical director at Lancashire & South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust, said the new beds on the Avondale Unit will make a real difference to mental health treatment in the county.

Dr Morgan said: “This is really going to make a difference to how mental health services are delivered in Lancashire and South Cumbria.

“At present, though there are sufficient acute mental health beds for adults, there are gaps in specialist rehabilitation beds for people with long term mental health issues.

“This means that some people who require rehabilitation are staying in acute beds for too long.

“This isn’t the best way to meet their needs and it also means that other people who need to be admitted can’t always get a bed when needed.

“The new beds will free up acute inpatient beds and mean that fewer people with mental health issues will be sent out of area or present at hospital A&E departments.”

Russ McLean, chairman of the Pennine Lancashire Patient Voices Group and a campaigner for better mental health services across the NHS, welcomed the news and said he wanted to see similar increases in the east of the county.

Mr McLean said: “It is brilliant news for mental health patients. What I would like to see is that replicated across Lancashire. That’s what we were promised last year. Eleven beds isn’t going to solve the problem because of the huge number of mental health beds which were axed by successive governments. This is just a drop in the ocean in many ways. It will mean some patients in Lancashire and Cumbria won’t have to travel hundreds of miles to see their loved ones.”

The trust said the 11 new beds will begin operating in April.