Action is needed to tackle the rising number of mentally ill children being treated in adult hospital wards, the Scottish Government has been warned.
Children’s charities have demanded more beds for young people after figures from the Mental Health Welfare Commission showed an increasing number of children are receiving mental health treatment in non-specialist hospital wards.
In 2018-19, there were 118 admissions involving young people to a ward not designed for adolescent mental health treatment, up from 103 the previous year.
The incidents involved 90 different young people, an increase of 19.
Dr Arun Chopra, executive director (medical) at the Mental Welfare Commission, said: “Whilst it was reassuring to see that the vast majority of young people had specialist senior medical input on admission, adult wards differ in staff training and ward environment to those designed to care for young people.
“Adult intensive psychiatric care units (IPCUs) in particular can often be unsuitable environments for adolescents. They are specialised units for adults who are very unwell and present with high risk to themselves or others.
“The lack of a resource or an agreed plan on how to manage situations when IPCU care is required causes difficulties for children and young people, their families and the clinicians working for them.
“While the numbers of young people admitted to adult IPCUs is low, we remain very concerned about the lack of these facilities in Scotland; an issue we have raised for a number of years, and will continue to raise.”
The Scottish Children’s Services Coalition (SCSC) – a group of independent and third-sector children’s service providers – said there are currently only 48 specialist hospital beds provided by NHS Scotland for adolescents with mental health problems.
The SCSC said many children and young people with severe mental health problems are therefore being admitted to non-specialist adult and paediatric hospital wards, which are often not appropriate for their needs.
It is also urging the Scottish Government to create secure inpatient facilities for young people with mental health illnesses, as there are currently none in Scotland.
A SCSC spokesman said: “We are clearly concerned about the increasing number of those being admitted to adult mental health wards, often inappropriate to their needs, both in terms of staff training and the ward environment.
“The Scottish Government needs to up its game on this and provide adequate facilities, ensuring that there are sufficient specialist bed numbers for those requiring them.
“There is also currently no provision north of Dundee and this requires to be urgently addressed.”
He added: “For children and young people who require inpatient mental health care, a lack of such services means that they frequently remain at home, often until the family reaches crisis point, leaving them feeling isolated and delaying recovery.
“These are among the most vulnerable members of our society and we owe it to them to give them the adequate care and support that they need.”