Commissioner: Too many children going to mental health hospitals

21 May 19

A growing number of children are being admitted to mental health hospitals unnecessarily, the Children’s Commissioner for England has warned.

The number of children with mental health issues in England more than doubled from 110 in March 2015 to 250 in February 2019, analysis by the commissioner has found.

The report, out today, said that too many children were being admitted to secure hospitals “unnecessarily” and in some cases were “spending months and years of their childhood in institutions when they should be in their community”.

Nearly 75% of these children have autism but no learning disability, one in seven have a learning disability only while another one in seven have both, according to figures from NHS Digital.

A child may be admitted to a mental health hospital when they are considered to be posing a risk to themselves of others.

The report argued that more community-based support could minimise “inappropriate hospital admissions” but claimed that such services are currently a “postcode lottery”.

Data from NHS Digital shows that around one in seven children spent at least a year in their current hospital spell with their current provider but could have returned home if support was available.

Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield called for a cross-government national strategy with funding and clear targets to ensure the right support is available in every area of the country.

The report urged local authorities to maintain and make “proper use” of risk registers to identify children in their area who might require hospital admission due to challenging behaviour.

Longfield said: “A national strategy is needed to address the values and culture of the wider system across the NHS, education and local government so that a failure to provide earlier help is unacceptable, and admission to hospital or a residential special school is no longer seen as almost inevitable for some children.

“The onus is now on ministers, the NHS, the CQC, Ofsted and local authorities to make sure that these most vulnerable of children are not locked out of sight for years on end simply because the system is not designed to meet their needs.”

Sean Duggan, chief executive of the Mental Health Network, which is part of the NHS Confederation, said the report’s recommendations “must be supported by government”.

“The focus on learning disabilities and mental health and investment within the Long Term Plan gives us an opportunity to implement the recommendations and put this right.”

Last week the commissioner warned that the government is lacking information on cases where children have been detained in a youth justice setting.  

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