A patient with learning disabilities spent three weeks in an east London hospital A&E, a meeting was told.

The patient, who has complex mental health and learning disability needs, spent 500 hours in an emergency ward at King George Hospital in Goodmayes until more appropriate accommodation was found last week.

Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust (BHRUT), which runs the hospital, said the patient has now been moved to a service “better able to care for their needs”.

Speaking at a board meeting last week, the trust’s chief executive Matthew Trainer said emergency wards are an “entirely unacceptable” place for patients with learning disabilities to spend long periods.

READ MORE: East London mental health patients face day-long A&E waits

He added that the “horrible amount of time” on the ward is likely to be a record for the trust.

Mr Trainer has repeatedly raised concerns about bed spaces being taken up in emergency departments by mental health patients who should be cared for in specialised settings.

The number of mental health patients stranded in A&E at King George Hospital and Queen’s Hospital in Romford, which is also run by BHRUT, is likely to be adding to long waits for emergency care.

Mental health treatment is the responsibility of a separate NHS body – North East London Foundation Trust (NELFT).

Romford Recorder: Matthew Trainer Matthew Trainer (Image: BHRUT)

In this patient’s case, Mr Trainer said NELFT had done a “brilliant job” in trying to find somewhere to care for them. 

However, he added that the NHS system offering mental health care for patients with complex needs “just isn’t working”.

Louise Dark, King George Hospital’s newly appointed managing director, said emergency departments are a “really inappropriate” place for mental health patients.

She added that 200 mental health patients were at her hospital in March, spending a total of 3,170 hours in emergency beds.

The average stay for mental health patients was 16 hours, with 14 spending more than 36 hours on the ward.

NELFT argues it has a “shortage” of mental health beds for acute patients and saw the number of adult mental health referrals jump by a fifth to 20,691 in 2022.

Last July, NHS North East London (NHS NEL) was formed, a new health body that aims to coordinate and integrate healthcare across seven east London boroughs.

A spokesperson for NELFT said: “We are committed to ensuring that a high quality, patient safety, person-centred, personalised approach and experience is at the heart of everything that we do.

“A system approach is needed to deal with the increased demand and long waiting times for mental health beds.”

The spokesperson said NELFT is working with other local NHS bodies in a “North East London (NEL) Mental Health Learning Disability and Autism Provider Collaborative” to create more inpatient beds when needed.

In February NELFT also opened a second clinical decision unit where patients can be assessed and potentially discharged at a faster rate.

NELFT provides community and mental health care in Waltham Forest, Redbridge, Havering and Barking and Dagenham.