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Increased number of children treated on adult mental health wards

Dr Hamilton McBrien, Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist and Medical Director at Priory Hospital North London comments on today’s media coverage on the increased number of children treated on adult mental health wards.

It has long been identified that young people have been inappropriately placed on adult wards, and this is not a new phenomenon. In January 2007, the Office of the Children’s Commissioner for England published ‘Pushed into the Shadows – Young People’s experience of adult mental facilities’, detailing the unpleasant experiences of young people when placed on adult wards. Around that time, a deadline was set for Mental Health Trusts to guarantee that this would not occur, and was to be reported as a serious incident if it did. This proved effective in motivating Trusts to increase service provision in the community within Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) to reduce admissions, and to ensure fair and equal access to adolescent service beds. Unfortunately, as a result of the current national shortage of adolescent mental health beds, coupled with the reduction in community provision by CAMHS as part of health funding cuts, meaning the services have a lower threshold for admission, the phenomena of young people being admitted to adult wards is once again on the rise, but is a practice that continues not to be permitted by the Priory.

Additionally, as a result of the shortage of beds, young people are also more likely to have to travel a greater distance from home for admission to an adolescent service bed. This is more so if the service required is a specialist service, such as psychiatric intensive care or low secure, with such facilities being less available. There are no low secure adolescent beds within London, although there is a male forensic adolescent unit in Ealing. There are greater numbers of adolescent mental health beds in the South versus the North of England, but still an overall shortage. We are experiencing greater demand for beds within our units from more distant geographical areas over the last 18 months, with a persistent waiting list of referrals from across the country desperate to access safe and appropriate beds for the young people under their care.

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