Rise in number of under 18s treated in adult mental health wards

The NHS accepts that some mental health services for young people are lacking. Credit: ITV News

Ninety-nine children were treated on adult mental health wards in England in the first four months of this year alone, an ITV News investigation has discovered.

Video report by ITV News health correspondent Rachel Younger:

Fifty-three mental health trusts in England were contacted by ITV News - of these, just 38 responded.

If the current rate continues, it will mean a 12 per cent increase in the number of under 18s being treated alongside adults in 2015, despite the NHS accepting that adult mental health wards are not an appropriate place for children.

In three cases, in Norfolk and Suffolk, Derbyshire and in Gloucestershire, the youngsters involved were just 15-years-old.

Rebecca Parkin from Rotherham was sent to an adult psychiatric unit in April after trying to take her own life.

The seventeen-year-old accepts she needed to be sectioned for her own safety, but can’t understand why she wasn’t treated alongside other children.

She told ITV News: "If a young offender is put into prison they are put into a young offenders unit not an adult one, so why should mental health be different?"

When Rebecca’s younger sister and friends tried to visit her they were told they were too young to be allowed in. But, because she needed to be kept under constant observation, Rebecca couldn’t even escape to her room as there weren’t enough staff to watch over her there.

She told me it was a terrifying experience. “I saw quite a lot of adults attacking the staff", she said.

"On one occasion I passed out as I had such a headache and just wanted to go to bed. But the nursing staff refused to let me have an hours rest in my room because there weren’t enough staff to watch me."

Rebecca claims that despite years of bullying and the recent loss of her best friend to suicide, she wasn’t offered any counselling.

Rebecca wants to see improved mental health treatment made available for under 18s. Credit: ITV News

A spokesperson for Rotherham Doncaster and South Humber NHS Foundation told ITV News they couldn’t comment directly on Rebecca’s case.

But she added: “We want to apologise to any parents and young people who access our Children and Young People’s Mental Health Services in Rotherham who have been disappointed with the service.

“Over the past months we have been working hard with Health Watch Rotherham and young people and their families, to make improvements to our service including employing six new members of staff.”

Rotherham Doncaster and South Humber NHS Trust apologised for any disappointment with their mental health services.

But mental health charities say the increasing number of children getting inadequate care is inevitable, given the shortage of early intervention units.

They estimate that over the last Parliament, funding for mental health services dropped, in real terms, by nearly £600 million - that’s around 8% - despite a coalition pledge to put mental health conditions on a par with physical health.

Lucie Russell, Director of Campaigns at Young Minds said: “Services are being cut so there is now less counselling and less support in schools. It means children’s problems are having to get worse before they get treatment to get better and so more of them are ending up in inpatient units”.

Dr Martin McShane, from NHS England’s taskforce on young people’s mental health and wellbeing admits the service has got problems.

He said: “We’re determined to try and change it. That’s why already in the last year we have invested in an extra 56 beds and have set up a system to scrutinise what’s happening on a weekly basis with information from across the country.”

In the March budget earlier this year, the coalition government promised to increase funding for mental health services for children and new mothers by £1.25 billion over the Parliament. The question now is whether the new Conservative government will stick to that commitment and whether the money will prove enough after 5 years of cuts.