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So far this year, 32 children have had to stay in adult mental health units and it's going to continue to happen

HSE said placing children in adult units will ‘continue to be necessary’.

Image: Shutterstock/polya_olya

A TOTAL OF 32 CHILDREN have been admitted to adult mental health units so far this year. 

The Health Service Executive (HSE) confirmed the data in answer to a recent parliamentary question, stating that the children were admitted between 1 January and 20 June this year. 

In a letter to Sinn Féin’s Louise O’Reilly, the HSE said it is “committed to age appropriate placement and to the minimisation of the number of admissions of children to adult units”.

However, it acknowledged that “in exceptional circumstances, it will continue to be necessary, where there is a clear clinical imperative, to admit a small number of children to adult units, for the shortest time possible”.

It added that all admissions of young people under the age of 18 years are notified to the Mental Health Commission (MHC) in accordance with regulations. 

O’Reilly said the practice of placing children and adolescents in adult psychiatric units is “completely unacceptable”.

“The children and young people who are placed in these facilities are already in an incredibly difficult place with their mental health and this practice can have a further detrimental effect,” she said, adding:  

These admissions happen due to capacity issues and staffing deficits in the health service – they are the result of failures in the management of the health service at the very top.
This practice needs to be overhauled and addressed with urgency – it is completely unfair on the children and on the staff, and it has no place in the health service in 2019.

Last year, the MHC’s annual report indicated an increase in the placement of children and adolescents in adult mental health units. 

In 2018, there were 84 admissions to 18 adult units. Eleven of the admissions last year were for less than 48 hours. The majority of children were aged 16 and 17 years of age.

In 2017, 82 children under the age of 18 were admitted to adult units. 

The Commission’s Chairperson John Saunders said in the report that the placement of any child in any adult unit indicates a gap in service provision.

“A child or adolescent’s first introduction to mental health care should not be through a service or building that is not specifically equipped to deal with their needs,” he said. 

The Commission said the reason for the majority of admissions to adult units is due to an immediate risk to the young person or others, or due to the lack of a bed in a specialist Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) unit.

“There are only CAMHS units in three counties nationally, and they generally do not take out-of-hours admissions. Children and young people in crisis are left with the unacceptable ‘choice’ between an emergency department, general hospital, children’s hospital, or an adult in-patient unit,” said the annual report.  

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