NHS to boost beds for mental health care for young people

The NHS is increasing the number of beds available for children and young people needing specialist mental health services, to try to prevent patients having to be treated long distances from home.

Families in south-west England, Yorkshire and Humberside, are among those encountering the most from these bed shortages. Extra problems are being caused by the lack of sufficiently experienced staff and of appropriate social care in the community for patients after they leave units.

NHS England is to open 50 new beds for children’s mental health care. A report by the organisation suggests that broader engagement with children and young people, their families and their carers, is one the problems that should be addressed.

The report, of an NHS review, says that some parts of the UK could be losing beds as services shift to areas where the problems are worse. Patients are also sometimes inappropriatedly admitted to care, the field encompassing treatment for those who are deaf, have autistic spectrum disorders, obsessive compulsive disorders, or gender dysphoria.

The report says: “There are geographical inequities in provision of services with some areas very poorly served … There needs to be a balance struck between need for a concentration of clinical expertise and a specific therapeutic environment, and the detrimental effect of long distance admissions.”

The number of beds for children needing specialist care rose from 844 in 1999 to 1,264 in January this year. A 100 “snapshot” case histories provided for the report, showed that one in six patients travelled more than 100 miles for care.

Shortages of skilled staff have led to some units temporarily not admitting new patients, but recruitment is a problem across the entire country, says the report. An increase in the number of beds would add to such pressures, it admits.

Norman Lamb, minister for care and support, said: “I want to build a fairer society where children get the mental health care they need, but the current system is too fragmented and pressurised. To address this we are taking immediate action by making more beds available and appointing a taskforce to improve commissioning and create more joined-up services for children and young people. I am absolutely determined to get this right so that children everywhere get high-quality care.”

Sarah Brennan, chief executive of the charity YoungMinds, said the report “lifted the lid” on big failings. “This has to be a pivotal moment where we seize the initiative and bring about a sea change in how we support children and young people’s mental health.”

The shadow public health minister, Luciana Berger, said the problems amounted to an “appalling picture” and national scandal. The announcement came “nowhere near addressing the scale of the challenge we are facing”, she said.

Martin McShane, NHS England’s director for patients with long-term conditions, said: “We are committed to both addressing the more immediate problems, by increasing capacity, and to improving these services longer term, together with our national partners.”

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