Trusts miss target to keep under-16s off adult psychiatric units

Care services minister Phil Hope has rebuked mental health trusts for failing to meet a target to treat all under-16 year olds in children and adolescent rather than adult psychiatric wards.

Hope released figures showing under-16s were treated in adult wards on three occasions in England in the first quarter of 2009, each for one day, after numbers fell to zero in the previous quarter for the first time.

The government set a target in 2006 to end the use of adult wards for under-16s by November 2008.

Minister urges action

Despite significant progress – in the first quarter of 2008 there were 133 ‘bed days’ for under-16s – Hope said it was “unacceptable” that young people were continuing to be placed in this situation.

“Those few areas where these latest cases have arisen must take action to prevent this happening again,” he said in a written statement to the House of Commons this week.

“The appropriate place for vulnerable young children is in an environment which is designed for children and young people. In the case of under 16s our view is that the appropriate place is a Camhs (child and adolescent mental health) ward.”

Investigations were under way in each area to ascertain the causes of the problem, he added.

Age-appropriate target

The Mental Health Act 2007 contained a commitment to ensure all patients under 18 should be treated in environments appropriate to their age.

Hope praised NHS trusts for their work in preparing for this target, which comes into effect in April 2010. The proportion of bed days for under-18s on adult psychiatric wards had “significantly reduced”, he said, from 12% in 2006-7 to 8% in 2008-9.

Better access needed

Hope said it was imperative to improve access to age-appropriate inpatient services for young people close to their homes, along with services to treat under-18s in the community where it was safe to do so.

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