Mencap chief calls lack of children’s mental health services a ‘scandal’

The lack of emphasis given to children’s mental health
services has been branded a “national scandal” by a member of a
working group of the National Service Framework for Children.

Jo Williams, chief executive of Mencap, told delegates at the
Association of Directors of Social Services international
conference in Belfast that doctors and nurses were creaking under
an “avalanche” of cases of children suffering from mental health

“In several places I visited, I thought some of the people I met
were significantly depressed and not coping with demand,” she
added. “Most of the agencies were saying they weren’t sure
what they were supposed to be doing.”

Many of these patients initially present themselves at
hospitals, often creating an overwhelming demand on health
workers’ time.

Williams, who is co-chairperson of the standards for hospital
services sub-group of the children’s NSF, said: “A young
person may be taken to a district general hospital and cause
absolute chaos for 72 hours. They may refuse to go anywhere, end up
being placed on an adult ward and, because of the shortage of
specialist treatment facilities, end up being sent to the first
available place.”

She added that hospitals were not geared up to cope with such
patients, resulting in the whole experience causing the young
person more harm. Too often hospitals have to deal with crisis
situations that end in a young person being sent to an
inappropriate treatment unit, she added.

Williams said this situation resulted in a lot of money being
“thrown away” because of the lack of understanding between
different parts of the system.

“We need to be a bit more proactive in working together with
agencies. For example, is there a procedure that everyone knows
about that swings into action when someone arrives at

Williams also said that the extra money the government made
available last year for children and adolescent mental health
services would take time to make an impact on the quality of
services. The waiting list for gaining access to CAMHS was still
between two to three years, something that young people found
inexplicable, Williams said.

She said it was likely the five remaining modules of the NSF –
the first of which on hospital services was published in April –
would be published in 2004 and not this year as originally

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