A LEADING children’s charity has called for urgent action as it was revealed that county children with mental illnesses are being sent miles away from home because of a lack of beds in the Lancashire area.
Young Minds said current services are overloaded, with mental health units struggling to meet demand.
There are just 16 beds available across the county — 10 for children under 16 at The Junction in Lancaster and six for those aged 16 and 17 at The Platform in Preston.
Spokesman Nick Harrop said: “It’s unacceptable that so many vulnerable young people are placed in inpatient units a long way from their homes.
“We often hear from parents who are furious they can only visit their children once a week or once a fortnight, because the distances are so far and travel costs are so expensive. It’s also incredibly stressful for young people to be cut off from their families and friends.”
Last year, 29 youngsters were sent outside the county for treatment for serious conditions, Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust said.
Some required specialist services are unavailable closer to home, but the majority were moved because of a lack of beds, the trust, which provides mental healthcare across Lancashire, revealed.
Their destinations included The Huntercombe Hospital in Norwich, 250 miles away, and The Alpha Hospital, which is 70 miles away in Sheffield.
“Young people at times have very complex clinical needs and may require admission to highly specialist facilities and there are several of these located around the country,” a trust spokesman said.
“Our number one priority is to ensure our service users receive the right care at the right time, and in cases where a bed cannot be immediately found, interim arrangements are made until one becomes available.
“This only occurs in exceptional circumstances following a robust clinical assessment of the individual and in close consultation with the family.”
There are four tiers of care involved in Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHs).
The first three are community or outpatient-based, but Tier Four helps those suffering from conditions such as psychosis, suicidal ideation or deliberate self-harm, eating disorders, severe depression, and post-traumatic stress, and requires a stay in a specialist unit.
A spokesman for NHS England, which commissions mental healthcare in Lancashire, said 56 new beds will be made available across the country from next year, although their exact locations have not yet been revealed.
When the beds were first announced, Dr Martin McShane, NHS England’s director for people with long-term conditions, said: “Too many children and young people have had to travel some distance from their homes to access specialised in-patient beds.
“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.”
Blackpool’s Health and Wellbeing Board heard recently ‘a significant risk for Victoria Hospital is mental health patients presenting at A&E’.
Hospital bosses were unable to say how many under-18s are turning up at casualty suffering from mental illnesses because they do not ‘hold that type of data’.
However, one in four young people have considered suicide, with rates of depression and anxiety in teenagers rocketing by 70 per cent in the past 25 years, Young Minds estimated.