The shortage of beds across mental health services in the UK is forcing doctors to send patients miles away from their homes or section them to boost their chances of securing a bed, new research has revealed.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists questioned 576 trainees working in psychiatry across the UK, who were asked about their experiences of working in mental health over the past six months.

Of those who responded, 70% said they had experienced difficulty in finding an appropriate bed for a patient at least once. The figure rose to 83% among specialists working in child and adolescent services (CAMHS).

Of those working in CAMHS, around one in five respondents had been forced to send a child 200 miles away from their families.

Around 80% had been forced to send an adult patient outside the local area for a bed, while four out of 10 respondents had sent a patient at least 100 miles away from home.

Over a third of respondents said that a colleague's decision to detain a patient under the Mental Health Act had been influenced by the fact that this would make the provision of a bed more likely. One in five said they had factored this into their own decisions.

Professor Sue Bailey, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: "This survey provides further evidence that mental health services are approaching a tipping point.

"Continued cuts to services can only result in further distress and discomfort for patients, many of whom are young, vulnerable, some of whom are forced to receive care far from home. This situation is simply not acceptable."

'If they're not sectioned, there's no bed'

Around 24% of junior doctors recalled a bed manager telling them that, unless their patient had been sectioned, they would not get a bed.

Three out of 10 had seen a patient admitted to a ward without a bed and 28% had sent a critically unwell patient home because no bed could be found.

The results echo a previous investigation by the BBC and the journal Community Care in the last year, which found that over 1,500 beds in mental health services have been cut.

"These practices signify serious risk to patients due to a crippling lack of resources. The fact that psychiatrists are having to consider sectioning patients to secure something as basic as a bed is a huge warning sign of extreme under-provision," Dr Alex Langford, a trainee psychiatrist, told BBC News.

"These doctors are using the only option they have left to ensure very unwell people get the care they desperately need. The survey shows just how pervasively dangerous the disparity between resourcing in mental health and other medical specialities is."