NHS England has launched an investigation into “unacceptable” problems accessing inpatient care for acutely unwell children, care minister Norman Lamb has announced.
Lamb revealed the NHS England review of children’s inpatient units during a house of commons debate where MPs heard how cuts to young people’s community services and acute beds means children are being sent miles from home for care and admitted to adult wards. Local NHS agencies spent £1,000 a day delivering care to one young person sent out-of-area.
The minister also said he would look into complaints from local commissioners that the tariff paid by NHS England to run children’s inpatient units is too low to make opening more beds viable.
Hull MP and former health secretary Alan Johnson, who cited the findings of a Community Care investigation into the mental health beds crisis, said: “I have been told by the director of commissioning that, if a proper inpatient service were offered to the mental health trust in Hull and the East Riding, it would have to decline the commission because the tarrif is so low.”
Johnson said that the closure of a local children’s inpatient mental health unit has had a “profound effect” on care in his area. One constituent – an NHS nurse – struggled to get care locally when her 13-year-old daughter had a mental health breakdown.
“She was first of all sent to Leeds, 66 miles away, where the inability of her mother and five-year-old brother to spend as much time with her, led to a further deterioration in her health,” said Johnson.
“She was then incarcerated with young offenders in Cheadle, 103 miles from her home. Her mother, coping with a five-year-old son and a job in the NHS, spent nine hours travelling to have just one hour with her daughter…Is this what the NHS has come to? Is this the kind of treatment that any of us would accept for our children?”
Johnson said placing the girl in Cheadle was an “appalling service” and had cost the NHS £1,000 a day excluding the travel costs of medical staff. He warned the case was one of 13 he was aware of where young people had been sent out-of-area.
Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw, a former Labour health minister, said it was “scandalous” that young people in his constituency had been admitted to adult mental health units or sent as far away as Newcastle for care due to bed shortages and issues with tier 3 care. Bradshaw has referred the matter to health secretary Jeremy Hunt.
Responding, Lamb said the situation was “unacceptable” and said NHS England had launched a three-month review to assess inpatient facilities for children and ensure “sufficient services are available in all parts of the country”.
On children being sent miles from home for care, the minister said:
“I absolute share [Johnson’s] concern and that of other members who talk about children being sent long distances from home. As a parent, I would feel exactly the same.
“The most important thing is that such children should be in the right facility with the right care and treatment…Getting the right facility is crucial, but that sort of distance causes me great concern, and I accept that we need to address it.”
The Royal College of Psychiatrists is calling on the Department of Health to re-run a national survey on child psychiatric co-morbidity so that commissioners have better data on the issues faced in their areas. The last survey was carried out in 2004.
Andy McNicoll is Community Care’s community editor