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Shortage of Mental Health Beds for Adolescents Now a Priority?

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Sir James Munby, head of High Court’s Family division was, ‘ashamed and embarrassed’ that no hospital place has been found for a 17-year-old who was at high risk of self harm and suicide.

The comments made draw attention to the state of the mental health provision in the UK. The situation was described as a “disgraceful and utterly shaming lack of proper provision in this country of the clinical, residential and other support services”.

Out of a total stock of 1,459 child and adolescent mental health service inpatient beds in England, there are 124 of the ‘low secure’ type. The NHS has pledged to create 150-180 extra beds, adding to the existing 1,459 in order to meet the growing demand for in-hospital mental health services.

A survey of child and adolescent mental health workers, conducted by the Royal College of Psychiatrists in 2015, found 62% had seen adolescent patients held in inappropriate settings, with 14% saying patients had attempted to kill themselves whilst waiting for a suitable bed.

A recent review found that this allocation was not evenly spread across the country - for example, some areas had no in-patient beds within a 50-mile radius.

The picture is further complicated by the manner of allocation of those beds. Some are in specialist units for children with eating disorders, others are in high dependency units for young people with complex needs. Furthermore, there are many more specialist beds than high dependency ones. This means that children and their families often travel large distances to access in-patient treatment.

NHS England says it wants to change this by increasing the number of beds in poorly-serviced parts of the country and by offering crisis help at an earlier stage to children and young people in the community.

Minton Morrill’s inquest team are all too familiar with this situation. Recent years has seen an increase in families seeking legal representation into the deaths of loved ones who have lost their lives in mental health settings. Commonly, a contributory factor in those deaths has been the lack of appropriate provision for these vulnerable adolescents. We truly hope that NHS England implement their promise and provide the additional resources required sooner rather than later if future deaths are to be prevented.

 If you  would like to speak with a member of the Minton Morrill Civil Liberties team regarding any of the above or related issues, please call on 0113 245 8549 or contact us by email: