Children in England at clear risk ‘can’t get mental health beds’

Youngsters in the midst of a mental health crisis must have attempted suicide several times before securing a bed in an inpatient unit in England, a report has found.

Admissions criteria for beds in child and adolescent mental health units are now so strict that even very vulnerable under-18s who pose a clear risk to themselves cannot get one.

The practice – caused by the lack of NHS mental health beds – puts young people at risk of further harm, their parents confused, exhausted and worried, and the police and ambulance services potentially having to intervene.

The high thresholds for admission to a child and adolescent mental health services (Camhs) unit are detailed in a report on NHS mental health care for under-18s in England, based on interviews with patients , their parents and the specialized personnel who take care of them.

The report states that a young person must “have attempted suicide several times to qualify for hospital support”. It was commissioned by Look Ahead Care, a charity which provides mental health services in 40 areas of England, and will be launched at the House of Lords on Wednesday.

“For many mental health professionals, this threshold was deeply frustrating,” the report said. “For parents and users, this provoked strong emotional reactions: they said they felt angry and abandoned.”

The parent-of-one quoted in the report said: “It was very clear from what the doctor had written that he had suicidal intentions and was planning for it. I felt that at the At the time, Camhs was only interested if he tried, which we obviously didn’t want him to do.

A quoted Camhs nurse said: ‘Parents were like, ‘What do you mean? How do I take her home? It was quite difficult for them, which I get because the parents came to us asking for help.

The report, funded by the Wates Family Enterprise Trust, also highlights how:

  • Under-18s seek help from A&E for serious mental health issues because mental health crisis services are inadequate, even though emergency services are not set up to deal with them.

  • Private operators now provide most hospital mental health care to children and young people who are deemed ill enough to need a bed, but these cost up to £4,200 a week – far more than on the NHS.

  • Some under-18s who have overdosed or self-harmed end up being cared for in acute hospital pediatric wards while waiting for a mental health assessment, then wait ‘for days or weeks’ for a bed in a Camhs unit.

Olly Parker, head of external affairs at the charity Young Minds, said: ‘It is shameful that children and young people reach a point of crisis before they have received any support for their mental health. We know from our own research that thousands of people have waited so long for mental health support or treatment that they have attempted suicide.

“Those who end up in A&E are often there because they don’t know where to turn. But A&E can be a crowded and stressful environment, and isn’t usually the best place to get proper help.

A survey of 13,887 young people last year found more than one in four had attempted suicide because they had to wait for mental health help.

Daisy Cooper, Liberal Democrat health spokesperson, said: ‘The results of this research are devastating and should serve as a wake-up call to government about the mental health of young people.

“The heartbreaking interviews in this report show how desperate young people and their families are for treatment, and that there is no one to turn to unless they have reached crisis point, sometimes Many times.”

An NHS spokesperson said: “It is untrue that private providers deliver most inpatient mental health care to young people and in fact the latest data shows that over 701,000 children and young people have been cared for by the NHS mental health services over the year to October 2022.

“The NHS has expanded mental health teams in schools to cover 2.4 million pupils and has rolled out 24/7 helplines to support people in crisis without them needing to go to hospital, so anyone who thinks they need treatment should come forward as soon as possible.”

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