"Groundhog Day" as 44 children admitted to adult mental health facilities

The Mental Health Commission has warned that the practice is "totally unacceptable"

The Chair of the Mental Health Commission has warned that mental health services are facing a "Groundhog Day" as children continue to be admitted to adult facilities.

The Commission has warned that the practice is "absolutely unacceptable" as new figures show 44 children were sent to adult institutions in the first five months of this year.

Approximately one third of those children were aged 16-years-old and under according to the Commission's annual report.

The number of child admissions did fall by almost 30% last year - however figures are now on the rise once again.

Staff shortages

The Commission has pointed to a decline in the number of available beds within Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services - mainly due to a shortage of staff - as one of the primary reasons for the rise.

It has been 11 years since it was recommended that  the number of child in-patient beds be raised to 100 as a matter of urgency - however there are currently only 76 beds in the system.

Just 66 of those beds have personnel available to staff them.

Commission chairman John Saunders said the time for talking is now over - with everyone in agreement that something must be done to resolve the situation.

"While people say it is inadequate, it is inappropriate, it is poor; there has been very little constructive work done to actually change the situation," he said.

"I suppose it is a little bit of a groundhog day for the mental health commission because we tend to be saying the same things year on year.

"I am particularly concerned this year about children and the number of children who have been admitted - inappropriately in our opinion - to adult units."

Daunting

The Commission has also warned that a number of areas are still working without out-of-hours or weekend cover for children - increasing their risk of being admitted to adult units.

Commission CEO Patricia Gilheany warned that even one child being admitted to an adult service is unacceptable.

"It is daunting, potentially quite scary for a young person - and particularly for young person who has mental health issues," she said.

"That is why it is imperative that this trend has to reverse and that child facilities have to be made available."

Pull out the stops

Staffing levels continue to form one of the main challenges facing the service and Ms Gilheany said it is widely known that recruitment has been tough.

"There has been plenty of media attention in the recent past - particularly over the facility in Dublin at Linn Dara where there are particular challenges at the present moment in time," she said.

"Yes that is a challenge, but it has to be addressed. The stops have to be pulled out here. It is not acceptable."

The Commission report welcomes the allocation of €35m for spending on additional mental health service in 2016 - but warned the current level of spending on mental health is still less than the target of 8.24% of overall health spending as laid out in 'A Vision for Change' - the HSE policy framework for mental health services.