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Suicidal children face long delays for mental health care

Suicidal children as young as 12 are having to wait more than two weeks for beds in mental health units to start treatment, despite the risk to their lives, research reveals.

A study of under-18s with serious mental health problems found that bed and staff shortages mean NHS services for troubled young people have become dangerously “threadbare”.

Young people who have tried to end their life by self-harming or taking an overdose are facing delays of up to 15 days between first being seen and getting a place in a unit. Child and adolescent services are so stretched that even a huge area such as London, which has 10 NHS mental health trusts, sometimes runs out of beds.

The findings dramatically illustrate the crisis in NHS mental health care for under-18s, especially those whose illness is so severe that it is life-threatening, a situation Theresa May made a personal priority. They are contained in an audit – carried out by four psychiatrists including Dr Dan Poulter, a former health minister – of 71 children who ended up in A&E after experiencing a mental health crisis between late 2015 and spring 2018 and were taken into the care of the South London and Maudsley (Slam) NHS trust. Slam is the largest specialist mental health trust in England.

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