Keep children out of adult mental health wards, says Alliance of 80 organisations

8 May 2007

The Mental Health Alliance is calling on MPs in the House of Commons not to reject a law change to prevent children being placed inappropriately on adult psychiatric wards in England and Wales.

The House of Commons Committee on the Mental Health Bill will today debate an amendment passed in the House of Lords that protects children under 18 from being placed on adult wards and ensures they are looked after by specially trained staff.

The Mental Health Alliance, a coalition of 80 organisations that is campaigning for a better Mental Health Bill, strongly supports the amendment.

Andy Bell, Chair of the Mental Health Alliance, said: "Too many children are being admitted to adult mental health wards. For many the experience is traumatic and can do lasting damage. Vulnerable children who need care and treatment often leave in a worse condition than when they arrived.

"This amendment is a chance to put right a situation that has gone on for too long. The NHS needs to prioritise and invest in the creation of mental health services that are fit for children. Only legislation of this kind will achieve the change that is needed to prevent children from being put at risk in an adult environment.

Kathryn Pugh, Head of Policy at the charity YoungMinds, said: "It is a national scandal that we have children as young as ten admitted to adult wards. Each year, a thousand vulnerable children are incarcerated with often extremely unwell adults.

"Young people and their parents are asked to put their trust in our health system and then that trust is abused by placing them in dangerous, inappropriate circumstances. Unless changes are made in the law, children will continue to be at risk and their chances of recovery seriously jeopardised. We now have to ask the question, would this be good enough for my child, and until the answer is yes then it is not good enough."

Moira Fraser, Head of Policy at the Mental Health Foundation, said: "We know that increasing numbers of children in this country are experiencing mental health problems, yet there is dangerous lack of specialist services available to them. In order for the Government to invest in child specialist services, a change in the law is needed. It is appalling that the Government wants to overturn this amendment."

Notes

The amendment to the Bill states: "In the case of an application for admission for assessment and treatment for a mental disorder, whether voluntary or not, in the case of any child or young person under the age of 18 years, a clinician with specialist training in child or adolescent mental health shall assess the needs of the child or young person and a PCT or equivalent Health Board provide for such services and accommodation as are sufficient for the particular needs of that child or young person."

The amendment was tabled in the House of Lords by the Crossbench peer Lord Williamson. The Government has indicated that it will overturn the amendment.

The Mental Health Bill has been amended more than any other Bill this session in the House of Lords.

According to the Mental Health Act Commission, which oversees psychiatric treatment in Britain, more than 1,300 under18s were placed on adult wards between April 2003 and October 2006 under compulsion.