Over the last 10 years, at least 587 children spent 9,516 bed days on adult wards.
On the day that Welsh health minister Lesley Griffiths launched a new guide for mental health providers and sufferers alike to improve outcomes for those with a mental health problem, serious concerns have been expressed at new figures revealing the number of children in Wales being treated on adult mental health wards.
According to WalesOnline, based on a series of Freedom of Information requests, at least 38 under-18s spent 380 “bed days” on adult wards in 2011/12, whilst over the last 10 years, at least 587 children spent 9,516 bed days on adult wards.
The website ominously argues however that the figures “are likely to be higher as some Health Boards did not supply information for all the years”.
With Welsh Lib Dem leader Kirsty Williams dubbing the findings “absolutely scandalous”, charities and politicians of all colours alike have reacted with deep concern at the impact on children finding themselves in such inappropriate environments.
Ruth Coombs from the mental health charity, Mind Cymru, observed:
“It’s a pretty scary environment to be in. I would be extremely concerned that they’re not been placed in more appropriate settings.
“They’re not the sort of environment that will help to aid their recovery and treatment of young people who are experiencing mental health problems for the first time.”
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Responding to the findings, a spokesperson for the Welsh government said:
“Very sadly, but thankfully rarely, children sometimes face psychiatric problems requiring hospitalisation, and we owe them the best available treatment. Welsh government guidance is clear that no child should be admitted to an adult ward unless there are clear issues concerning the safety of the child.
“One of the commitments in the Breaking the Barriers Action Plan (2010), which looks to improve mental health and emotional wellbeing services for children and young people, is to reduce the number of children and young people admitted to adult wards.
“We have invested £42m in dedicated Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service inpatient facilities in North and South Wales, the North Wales facility opening in 2009 and the south Wales facility in 2011.”
The findings come as the outgoing Chief Medical Officer for Wales has used his final annual report to warn that whilst health across Wales continues to improve, inequalities remain a persistent problem with life expectancy in Dinas Powys to take just one example 10 years longer than Grangetown just 4 miles away.
In summing the findings up, Dr Tony Jewell explained:
“Life expectancy has been increasing for the past two decades. Male life expectancy has increased to 77.6 years, narrowing the gap with female life expectancy (81.8 years), which is a significant improvement.
“Smoking rates amongst both men and women have declined significantly since the seventies. However for both sexes, smoking related health risks remain a problem, and lung cancer mortality rates in women have risen over the past decade.
“The gap is widest in alcohol-related deaths – rates are three and a half times as high in the most deprived areas for males, and more than twice as high for females. Similarly for deaths from respiratory disease and from smoking, rates in the most deprived areas are more than twice those in the least deprived areas.
“We see this in Cardiff, where life expectancy for men in Grangetown is 71.5 years, and only a few train stops along in Dinas Powys, men can expect to live to 81.8 years.”