Council bosses urged to scrutinise NHS trust’s figures on mental health patient beds

southern health figures
Lymington Hospital is run by Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust

FIGURES published by an NHS trust have been put under scrutiny after civic chiefs were urged to looked into apparent discrepancies in the data.


Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust responded after county councillors were urged to “robustly challenge” previously reported numbers of Hampshire mental health patients treated in beds it does not own, writes Maria Zaccaro of the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

Last year it was revealed that between April 2018 and April 2019 Southern Health placed mental health patients in hospitals that it did not run on 698 occasions, racking up a bill of £12.6m.

In June this year, however, the trust said the number of the so-called out-of-area placements (OAPs) had dropped thanks to new measures.

Dr Karl Marlowe, chief medical officer at Southern Health, said then that “at the end of October 2019 we had 68 people in spot-purchased out-of-area placements – currently we have three (a reduction of 95%)”.

But in a deputation discussed at a meeting of Hampshire County Council’s health and adult social care select committee (HASC), resident Geoff Hill asked civic chiefs to challenge those figures.

He said a report by Southern Health in July showed different numbers, stating that “the use of beds that are not commissioned has decreased from almost 80 acute and PICU out-of-area [beds] in November 2019 to circa 25 in June 2020. Of these only four were spot-purchased by the trust”.

The report also said that apart from the four beds which were spot-purchased by the trust “the other required beds are subcontracted by the trust at Marchwood Priory and Thornford Park”.

Members of the committee asked for a copy of Mr Hill’s deputation to investigate the issue.

Asked to explain the difference between the figures mentioned by Dr Marlowe in June and those published by the trust in July, Southern Health said in a statement: “The difference in the data was because we had not included the Marchwood or Thornford beds.

“Because of our close relationship with these providers and their proximity to our own services and patients’ families, they meet a specific set of criteria set out by NHS England, and are therefore not reported as out-of-area beds.”

Asked also to explain why the report noted four spot-purchased beds while in a statement to the media shortly before the end of June Dr Marlow said the trust had three, Southern Health said: “We measure our bed usage, including spot-purchased out-of-area placements, daily and as such the numbers constantly fluctuate.”



  1. FAKE NEWS: Southern Health spin doctors win again! The situation is not as Lymington Times seeks to characterise it.

    For a start, the Marchwood Priory and Thornford beds ARE out-of-area placements (“OAPs”): the NHS definition makes clear that ALL patients being treated in facilities not owned by the Trust are OAPs. See the NHS chart at

    I agree these services are better for families and (in my view) better for patients by a country mile, but it does not change the fact that they are OAPs with the same cost implications as would apply to other OAPs.

    Quite why the LT asked about the drop from 4 to 3 OAPs is a mystery. I suspect LT asked the wrong question. The papers for the July Board and Council of Governors quote circa 25 for June-end. A drop from circa 25 to 3 cannot be explained away so easily.

    In my deputation, I referred to Southern Health causing confusion by its habit of changing terminology to its advantage and through ‘statistical gymnastics’. What happened to openness, honesty and transparency?

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