Children with mental illness admitted to adult wards amid bed shortage

Acutely ill children as young as 12 years old are being admitted to adult wards

By: Information Daily Staff Writer
Published: Thursday, February 20, 2014 – 09:51
Acutely ill children as young as 12 years old are being admitted to adult wards due to bed shortages at specialist child services, a Community Care/ BBC investigation has found.

350 minors were admitted to adult mental health wards in the first nine months of the period 2013/14, up from 242 in 2011/12, data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act has revealed.

Of these minors, 12 were aged under 16 and one was just 12 years old, a situation NHS England admits is “totally unacceptable in the majority of cases”.

The investigation also found that many children were being uprooted from their communities and sent to mental health wards up to 150 miles away from home. One child was sent a record 275 miles away, leaving their Sussex home to stay in Greater Manchester.

Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust has responded to this shocking revelation, claiming that they “simply couldn’t find anywhere nearer” to deliver the specialist care the child required.

The bed shortage as it stands risks flouting the Mental Health Act 2007, which states that “age appropriate care” must be given to those under 18.

Dr Michael McClure, a consultant child psychiatrist at Central North West London NHS Foundation Trust, explained: “It’s a consistent problem now with CAMHS that they have young people misplaced in adult wards getting inappropriate care.

“Sometimes we have to make 50 to 100 phone calls around the country looking for a bed. They shouldn’t be shunted around into inappropriate facilities, however much the staff there try to help them”.

Questioned about the idea of young people being cared for far from home, he said: “I think it’s appalling. It may be the first time they’ve had a breakdown.

“They need to stay in touch with the people they know and love and if they’re having to move 200/300 miles, it’s very difficult for the family to stay in touch”.

A Department of Health spokesperson has responded to the findings, adding: “Children and young people’s mental health is a priority for this government and NHS England.

“That’s why we have invested £54 million to improve child and adolescent services through better monitoring, sharing best practice, and improving access to specialist talking therapies for young people”.

It remains to be seen whether such investment will serve to tackle the root of the problem.

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