An increasing number of children are being admitted to adult mental health units even though this should only happen in exceptional circumstances, it has emerged.
The Mental Health Commission found that in the first five months of this year, there were 44 child admissions to adult units compared with 36 for the same period in 2016.
“The increase in 2017 so far shows that on this issue we are going backwards,” said commission chairman John Saunders.
“The fact that the MHC was notified of 68 admissions of children and adolescents to adult mental health units in 2016 shows a stark failure to abide by established policy.”
The report shows 66% of the children admitted to adult units were 17 years of age, 22% were aged 16, and 12% were 15 years and under.
Last year, there were 12 child involuntary admissions — two were to adult units and the remaining 10 to child units.
In 2016, there were 76 registered beds in HSE child units but only 66 were being used — a shortage of personnel to staff them was blamed.
Possible reasons for the continued admission of children to adult units include geography, clinical decisions, and family preference.
In some areas of the country, there is no out-of-hours or weekend cover for children and adolescents, increasing their risk of being admitted to adult units.
There was a 29% decrease in the number of children admitted to adult units last year compared to 2015.
While the number of admissions to adult units has fallen over the last three years, the number of adult units admitting children has remained relatively steady — 20 in 2014, 21 in 2015, and 19 last year.
The report welcomes last year’s allocation of €35m for spending on additional mental health services, with an emphasis on supporting the development of specialist community mental health teams.
“We need to continue to develop real community mental health teams and progress in this regard is still very slow,” said Mr Saunders.
The commission said the current level of spending on mental health is still less than the target of 8.24% of overall health spending, as set out in A Vision for Change, a strategy document setting out the direction for mental health services in Ireland.
The report shows that the number of involuntary admissions has increased steadily, from 2,141 in 2012 to 2,414 last year. There was a 2% rise in the last two years.
Mr Saunders said they could not identify the precise reason for the increase and stressed that admissions to in-patient care, particularly involuntary admission, should be an act of last resort.
Of the involuntary admissions, 44% followed applications by family members, down from 68% in 2007. Applications from gardaí rose from 23% to 25% last year, and the commission said this is a cause for concern.
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