NHS head: Children still on adult psychiatric wards despite target

Adult psychiatric wards may still be holding children under 16 despite a target to end the practice by November 2008, an NHS leader has said, writes Jesse Whittock.

Steve Shrubb (right), director of the NHS Confederation’s Mental Health Network, which represents most mental health trusts, said it was possible some trusts may still be admitting 15-year-olds to adult wards in “extreme extenuating circumstances”. This could include cases where the child was fully grown and considered a physical threat to younger patients.

Commonsense approach

He said such scenarios were “very rare” and called for a “common sense” approach.

The Department of Health said it was too early to gauge whether the target had been met because it was still gathering figures.

However, Shrubb said he was surprised by the lack of information because trusts routinely fed back figures to the DH.

The latest statistics show that under-16s spent four bed days on adult wards in July-September 2008, the lowest since collections began in 2005.

Mental health trusts

Community Care approached two mental health trusts, East London, and Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire, which said they no longer had under-16s on their wards, and would not admit anymore. Both have set up specialist children and adolescent mental health units.

Last November, the government announced £31m in funding to meet the target and a duty on trusts, under the Mental Health Act 2007, to ensure age-appropriate treatment for 16- and 17-year-olds on adult wards by April 2010.

Last week, the Royal College of Psychiatrists issued guidelines to help trusts meet the duty for 16- and 17-year-olds, covering issues including staffing, training, the physical environment and assessments.

Trusts have been asked to audit themselves against the guideline and send anonymous reports to the RCP, which will then assess success.

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