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Will new children's mental health unit in Suffolk solve 'deeply troubling' problem of young people in adult wards?

PUBLISHED: 09:01 30 January 2016

Carlton Court Hospital, where the new unit will be built

Carlton Court Hospital, where the new unit will be built

(C) Archant Norfolk 2013

Figures show many children were admitted as inpatients in adult psychiatric wards last year.

Andy Goff, of Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust.Andy Goff, of Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust.

Campaigners have welcomed plans for a new mental health unit for children in Suffolk after it emerged concerning numbers of young people from the region had been sent to adult wards – a practice described by one mother as “extremely cruel”.

The Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) announced this week it had invested nearly £1 million so work could begin on the “state-of-the-art” unit at Carlton Court, Lowestoft.

It comes as figures released following a Freedom of Information request confirmed 13 of the 41 young people admitted as inpatients by the NSFT in 2014/15 were sent to adult wards – the highest figure in the trust’s four year history.

Anne Humphrys, from Debenham, whose teenage daughter has complex mental health needs, said it was “extremely cruel” for children to be placed in adult wards and called for “urgent action to reverse this practice”.

“Any admittance to an inpatient unit is frightening to the young person and their family however if you know your child is being admitted to an adult ward you would be terrified,” she added.

The new 12-bed unit will replace the seven-bed facility at Airey Close, Lothingland, which can only care for girls.

It follows consultation by NHS Great Yarmouth and Waveney Clinical Commissioning Group, which recommended Carlton Court become a centre of excellence for 12-18 year olds with complex mental health needs.

The Norfolk and Suffolk Mental Health Crisis campaign group said it welcomed the plans. But it described the number of young people previously treated on adult wards as “deeply troubling”.

“Adult psychiatric wards are not a suitable or safe place for children and young people,” a spokesman added.

NSFT said the new unit will allow it to provide specialist care to more patients closer to home.

Last week it emerged 279 patients from Norfolk and Waveney, including young people, were sent out of the region for treatment. The figures, which were the highest in four years, costing the NSFT £4.3m, were severely criticised.

NSFT hopes the number of young people being placed out of area will be reduced if NHS England agrees to fund the beds at Carlton Court.

Andy Goff, development and improvement manager with NSFT, said the trust aimed to avoid admitting young people into adult wards, though it sometimes had to be considered, if no children’s beds were available. He said all decisions were carefully considered and involved other agencies, parents and the young person, and all children admitted were under close professional supervision at all times

Speaking of the new unit at Carlton Court, he added: “This investment will make a huge difference to young people in Norfolk and Suffolk with complex mental health needs. It will mean that more people than ever – and both boys and girls – will be able to access the specialist help and support they need closer to home, without the need to travel outside the local area which can be stressful for both the patient and their family.”

The new unit will offer services to young people in crisis who cannot be supported in the community, with conditions including depression, anxiety, psychosis, eating disorders and self-harm.

Andy Evans, chief executive of NHS Great Yarmouth and Waveney CCG, said he was “delighted” work could begin on the centre of excellence, which was “great news” for young people and their families.

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