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Mental Health: Children and Young People

Volume 704: debated on Wednesday 29 October 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What progress has been made in providing age-appropriate accommodation and care for children and young people in mental health hospitals in line with the Mental Health Act 2007.

My Lords, I am pleased to report progress. In 2007-08, £31 million in capital funding was allocated to 17 projects designed to help to eliminate the inappropriate use of adult psychiatric wards for children and young people. This is a start. Additionally, the National Institute for Mental Health in England is undertaking a programme of works to support hospitals on this issue. The latest figures for 2008-09 show that the number of under-18 year-olds in adult psychiatric wards is at its lowest since the collection of figures started in 2005.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply, and in particular for the factual information. The noble Baroness knows that a very large number of noble Lords voted to put into the Mental Health Act 2007 the requirement that the environment for children and young adults in mental hospitals should be suitable, having regard to their age. That was to correct a most unsatisfactory situation. We now want to put improvements into practice rapidly and effectively. Is the Minister aware that there are disturbing reports, for example in the Times of 1 October, that hundreds of children and teenagers are still being put into adult psychiatric wards? While I welcome the action to which the Minister referred—it is a good start—will she assure the House that she will monitor the situation and continue to press for action to complete the programme within the timescale laid down in the Mental Health Act 2007?

My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Lord for his fantastic work in this area. I know that somebody called some amendments to the then Bill “the Williamson amendments”. We are committed to addressing the inappropriate use of adult wards for under-18 year-olds. We are carefully monitoring the use of adult wards and we are pleased to report that there have been significant decreases in recent times. However, until we can say that not one child or young adult has been put inappropriately into an adult ward, we will not have succeeded. We are on target for delivering this by April 2010. Investment is being made, and training provided, to ensure that the right facilities are provided that are age-appropriate for under-18 year-olds.

My Lords, further to that point, we were first officially alerted to this scandal in 2003. In 2006, the then Minister, Ivan Lewis, promised that the problem would be solved by November 2008. We are now in 2008 and, following the report Pushed into the Shadows, commissioned by the Children’s Commissioner, we are promised that this will end by November 2010. How can we have any faith at all in what the Government say?

My Lords, a great deal has been done to reduce the number, and I am very happy to provide the noble Baroness and the House with the figures for 2006-07, which show a dramatic increase. For example, in the first quarter of 2006-07, 75 under-16 year-olds were in adult wards, whereas in the first quarter of this year the number was 16, and that figure is going down. The same figures follow through for 16, 17 and 18 year-olds. However, we do not rest at that. The noble Baroness gave the date of November 2010 but that is not the case; it is April 2010. All health authorities have to inform social services by 3 November what appropriate facilities they have for under-18 year-olds. We will continue working to ensure that no under-18 year-olds are in inappropriate facilities by 2010.

My Lords, apart from words, what is proposed to protect these children? There is a long history of sad neglect.

My Lords, I hope that I have already told the House that we are absolutely committed to dealing with this matter and that a great deal of action has been taken. For example, something like 70 to 80 new places have been created for these children over the past few months. A great deal of investment is going into this problem and we are determined to solve it.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving us the number of places. Can she tell us how many children have been inappropriately accommodated, and how many children have been “appropriately accommodated”—so called—and what the definition for that happens to be?

My Lords, I have already mentioned some figures which show that the number of children below the age of 18 in adult wards has come down. Some of those on the cusp of 18 will not be inappropriately allocated—some young people are in the right place, but none of the others is. I do not have the figures but I will endeavour to let the noble Baroness know how many places are available within that total.

My Lords, in providing the necessary resources for these welcome changes, will the Minister bear in mind the statement in chapter 36, paragraph 74 of the Mental Health Act code of practice about,

“access to age-appropriate leisure activities and facilities for”,

children and young people, together with facilities for visits from parents, carers, siblings and guardians?

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate makes a very important point. We want children and young people to be treated as children and young people in the right kind of environment and for them to have access to age-appropriate leisure activities and visiting facilities to enable them to remain in contact with their parents and friends. We expect hospitals to take action to ensure that this objective is achieved for all under-18 year-olds.

My Lords, given that the NHS now has responsibility for healthcare in prisons, can the Minister tell the House the extent to which age-appropriate services are provided for children and young people in secure training centres and young offender institutions? There are worrying rumours of services being deeply inappropriate for these very distressed young people.

My Lords, the noble Baroness makes a very good point. A number of young people with severe mental problems are indeed being admitted to custody and young offender institutions, for example. I know that the staff there spend a great deal of time working with them and attempting to ensure that they are transferred to age-appropriate environments. I do not have the figures, but I will let the noble Baroness have them. However, I know that that is what is happening in those institutions.