Children with mental health issues admitted into adult units

Mental Health Commission warns against ‘unacceptable’ practice

John Saunders: ‘We’re talking about teenagers who may find themselves in wards with much older people in environments that can feel threatening and fearful.’ Photograph: Alan Betson

John Saunders: ‘We’re talking about teenagers who may find themselves in wards with much older people in environments that can feel threatening and fearful.’ Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Significant numbers of children with mental health problems are still being admitted to adult psychiatric units despite repeated warnings that the practice should be a measure of last resort.

Latest figures show that in the first half of this year 53 young people were admitted to inappropriate adult mental health units, representing one-third of all acute admissions involving children or adolescents.

The State’s mental health watchdog, the Mental Health Commission, yesterday warned that the volume of admissions of children into adult units was not acceptable.

Commission chairman John Saunders said a child’s needs were different from an adult’s. “We’re talking about teenagers who may find themselves in wards with much older people in environments that can feel threatening and fearful. They lack the kind of therapeutic input that is the norm in a children’s setting.”

If the numbers continue at their current rate, there will be a year-on-year increase over the 91 children admitted to adult units last year.

The campaign group Mental Health Reform said it was concerned that children were continuing to be admitted to adult wards at such a high rate.

Dr Shari McDaid, the group’s director, said: “It is an unacceptable violation of these children’s human rights if they are ending up in adult wards inappropriately.”

The HSE confirmed yesterday that only 46 out of the 66 in-patient beds for children and adolescents are in use as a result of vacancies or building works. It said it hoped that 12 of these beds would be available soon following recruitment and the completion of construction work.

Child case

Staff at the South Lee mental health unit in Cork told inspectors they had sought a bed in a regional child and adolescent unit and were unaware of the local vacancy.

Mr Saunders called on authorities to ensure these communications breakdowns were not repeated.

In response, the HSE said the available bed at a unit in Cork was being held over for another young person who was in the process of being detained by the courts. Ultimately, the place was not required and the adolescent in the adult hospital was transferred to the child-friendly facility.