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Two-thirds of children with mental ill health sent miles from home for treatment

Seven out of 10 children and adolescents with severe mental health problems were admitted to hospitals outside of their areas last year, according to figures obtained by the British Medical Association.

Seven out of 10 children and adolescents with severe mental health problems were admitted to hospitals outside of their areas last year, according to new figures.

child away
Picture: iStock

The data, which the British Medical Association (BMA) obtained from NHS England under freedom of information laws, show worsening access to specialist beds for young people in need. 

The figures reveal 69% of children and adolescent admissions were classed ‘out of area’ in 2016-17, a 12 percentage point increase on the previous year.

The south west saw the highest increase in patients treated out of area, at 106%, while the number of admissions in Yorkshire and the Humber almost doubled to 92%.

RCN professional lead for children and young people’s nursing Fiona Smith said: ‘There are big issues in the level of capacity in child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS).

‘But there are also issues of support and geographical access to CAMHS, as well as crisis intervention.

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‘This is an area of concern for the RCN and there will be further ongoing work around child and adolescent mental health services.’

Ms Smith added that nurses must be educated and prepared to work with children and young people with mental health problems in acute and community settings.

Poll results

Last October the RCN conducted a poll for the Guardian newspaper, which reveals more than two-thirds (70%) of 631 nurses working with troubled young people think services are inadequate.

Asked to list what they see as the main problems with CAMHS, respondents to the poll gave the following reasons:

  • Too few nurses (73%).
  • Delays in patients getting appointments (72%).
  • Young people being sent ‘out of area’ to get inpatient care due to bed shortages in their area (69%).
  • Inability of staff to give patients as many appointments or as much care as they need (59%).

Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust associate director of nursing and governance Tim McDougall said the situation needed urgent action.

Mr McDougall said: ‘It is not something that should be happening in a modern NHS.’

He said 'a national preoccupation' with beds as a solution for children in crisis was misleading.

‘Hospital [inpatient] care is only ever helpful for the minority of young people in mental health crisis,’ he said.

‘Most require local crisis services, or home-based and outpatient treatments - we need to invest in crisis care.

‘The personal impact is immense, with children out of school and dislocated from friends and family.’

Mr McDougall added that he felt the move a few years ago from regional to national commissioning for CAMHS had removed local accountability.

Discussing the latest NHS England data, BMA community care committee chair Gary Wannan said it is alarming that so many patients are being placed out of area when at their most vulnerable.

Dr Wannan said: ‘NHS England has promised action on this and we need to have a clear plan about how it will improve this situation for young people and their families.

‘It can be an incredible wrench for children to leave their homes, and being based far away is not going to help a young person in crisis.’

An NHS England spokesperson said: ‘Since the definition of out-of-area placements has been toughened up, year-on-year comparisons will not be accurate.’

‘But looking out over the next two years, we are committed to ensuring that children and young people receive care closer to home so 49,000 extra children and young people will get the care they need.

‘We are funding 150 to 180 new CAMHS specialist inpatient beds in under-served parts of the country, reducing the need for patients having to travel long distances to get the right care.’


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